Myths about college affordability

The number 1 myth about college affordability is that the state school is cheaper than the private school.   While it is typical for a big state school to have a less expensive sticker price listed than the private schools,  that does not mean they are less expensive for your student. The price you pay for a school is unique to you based on many factors.  A private college may cost less for your student than a state school.   Here are just a few factors that affect your cost:

1).  Your family income.  Every college and university uses the information they receive from the FAFSA and the CSS profile (if they use it) to determine “need” and then they offer financial need packages accordingly.  If you want to get an estimate of your Estimated Family Contribution, then head to the FAFSA 4CASTER.  It’s a good idea to do this sometime during your student’s junior year or earlier.

2). Merit aid.  Again, each college decides how they plan to award money for merit.  Some schools look only at grades/rigor/test scores while some look at community service hours, the student essay or other contributions.  Small private schools are notorious for offering a lot of money to certain students they are trying to recruit.  These merit scholarships require different GPAs and scores depending on how rigorous the school is.

3).  Athletic Talent.  I am pretty sure this is an area many people are familiar with.  Don’t forget, however, that there are three divisions in the NCAA and that Div 1 and 2 can both offer direct scholarships for athletic talent.  Div 3 can not offer direct support, but it can provide an opportunity for admission to a school you are interested in or just the opportunity to continue on in your sport.  If you are interested in playing or continuing your sport, chances are good there is a place for you on a college team.

4).  Music or Artistic Talent. Even if you don’t plan to pursue music or art as a major, some schools will give scholarships to participate in their programs.

5).  Understand the difference between “Need-Blind” schools and those that make you declare your intentions to seek scholarships when they consider your application.

6).  Schools handle “need” in different ways.  There is money you never have to pay back and money you do.  Trying to find more dollars that you don’t have to pay back is the trick.  Some schools tout that they cover 100% of the gap between EFC and total cost.  You want to find out whether that is covered with grants (you don’t pay those back) or loans (you do).

Finally, the best way to get your financial need met is to create a college list that meets your specific criteria.  The college list should be built carefully and should include at least one school that you know you can get into and you can afford that meets your academic, social and personal criteria.  Beyond that, it is a great idea to include some reach schools that you might or might not get into and might or might not get the money you need. Pay close attention to the application deadlines for the schools  you are interested in to be considered for merit aid.  The merit aid deadline is normally earlier than the regular decision application deadline.   You’ll never know until you’ve tried.  Just make sure you have at least one strong safety school on the list before you start swinging for the fences!

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