The escalating costs of colleges and the complex application process continue to frustrate and intimidate many high school students and their families. College costs continue to rise much faster than inflation and many families are concerned about the cost of having their child attend college.
I am often surprised by how much merit or grant money I am able to help my students qualify for. The key to getting a significant price break lies in understanding that schools are looking for students who will enhance their campus in some meaningful way. For many colleges it is moving up in their US News & World Report rankings. For others it is having truly engaged students on campus.
Throw as wide a net as possible when looking for merit, grant or financial aid money. This is too important a decision to not spend the necessary resources and time on. Don’t narrow down your options too quickly. There are many schools out there that offer intimate learning environments, were they focus on teaching students not obtaining more research grants. Find schools that are a good fit for your student. In general, I recommend my students apply to 2 reach schools, 3 likely schools, and 2 safety schools.
Currently 33% of students nationally transfer out of the college they started at within the first year. This is due to families not taking the time and resources to find a good fit as well as not preparing students to know what they need to do to be successful.
So, what is your actual price going to be? You can start by using the Net Price Calculator which is free and required to be on every college’s website. You will need your latest tax return numbers before you start. This is a helpful tool but not always accurate. My success lies in knowing how to market each individual student so they receive merit or grants, and financial aid where applicable.
There is no agreed-upon magic number that will universally qualify your family for financial or merit aid. Each school takes many different factors into account and there is no universal standard of evaluation when they decide who to give grants to. The College Board offers a general guideline for financial aid but they do not take into account various factors such as retirement assets and home equity amounts. For families with a high need for financial aid guidance the College Board calculator is extremely helpful. Having more than one child in school at once makes an impact on how much aid you will qualify for. It is helpful to know your family’s EFC (Estimated Financial Contribution). This gives a guideline as to what you should reasonably expect to pay out-of-pocket. This will help you determine if the college fairly awarded aid to your family.
Never be afraid to ask for more merit or financial aid money, but it is important to know whom to ask, when to ask, and the financial range you should request. There are many students and families I have coached who have received $20,000 or more than they were originally offered.
Standardized testing is one of the criteria many colleges consider when they offer money. Not all students do well in this testing situation and more and more colleges are offering a test-optional application. Forty percent of the top 100 liberal arts colleges allow this variance. Fairtest.org provides a list of all colleges that do not require testing or offer the test-optional application.
Save, save, save! And don’t worry-your financial aid reward will hardly be affected. For instance $10,000 saved will only reduce your aid by $564, at most. Federal direct loans are your best choice if they are available to you. The interest rate is currently 4.29% and they offer a safety net if you graduate and are not employed. The “elite” colleges tend to offer the greatest financial aid packages for those who have a significant need.
There are few decisions as important and life-impacting as choosing the right college for your son and daughter. I have years of experience of applying my knowledge and strategy to get the best outcome academically, financially, and socially for your son or daughter.