Even as I type this title I struggle, the cost of college has risen so dramatically and feels like a financial stretch for all but the wealthiest among us. In my years of working with families, I have the unfortunate role of being the bearer of bad news: college is much more expensive than most believe and many will not receive financial aid to make it “affordable.”
I often have to add “financial safeties” to my students’ college list. Typically, a local state school or a nearby state school that offers reciprocity. This will come in with an average of $20,000 a year for just tuition, room, and board! A freshman may only take out $5,500 in government loans the first year meaning the family needs to come up with a minimum of $15,000 each year for the “cheap” option. The average private college cost of attendance without scholarship money will be up to triple that number per year – $45,000-68,000 a year!
Once we have this discussion, I find students more open to looking at “other” schools – ones that offer substantial merit money. I work primarily with students in the Midwest, where I live, they are initially resistant to considering schools in the South – until they learn how much of a better financial fit they may actually be. When students learn certain schools in Alabama, Texas, and New Mexico come in with average tuition $5,000-$10,000 a year, even free for some of the highest academic students, they are suddenly open to looking at other state colleges!
My advice is do diligent research, realize there are schools where you will pay the actual sticker price, and schools where you may be offered deep discounts. Nothing is “fair” about the college admission and pricing system, and it seems harder to understand during COVID time. Still, know it is possible to find excellent financial and academic fits – you just may have to look outside of the common schools “most” of your classmates choose to apply to.
When doing your research the two terms you will want to use often with the name of the college are “COA” Cost of Attendance, and Merit Scholarships. I find this much more effective than trying to drill down an individual college’s website. Instead, open Google, or your favorite search engine, type in “University Name COA” and University Name Merit Scholarship.” If your student is not likely to receive academic merit money and you qualify for financial aid – focus on “Meet full need” colleges.
If you have other questions or want more assistance through this journey, please check out our College Selection and Admissions Services.