I nearly fell off my chair when I read this article in the Washington Post about NYU. The headline runs, “What Happens When You Find Out A Year Of College Costs $71,000?” Yes, it seems that that’s the sticker price for NYU including travel costs. And that’s for this coming year. Imagine what college will cost by the time your student is ready to attend!
Are you destined to sell your house and car and youngest child just so the oldest can go to college? Not if you follow my advice.
1. Financial aid is available at nearly every college. You might be surprised to learn that many middle-class families living in nice suburbs who own a car and a four bedroom house do actually qualify for aid. But you’ll never know how much you qualify for if you don’t ask. The first step in asking is filling out the FAFSA. You can read about this form, which should be completed as soon after January 1st as possible (which means you should fill out your taxes as soon as possible), on several websites, including the FAFSA website and the College Board website, which also has a video tutorial.
2. Student loans can help. Some loans come from the government (see this site) or from the college itself.
3. Private scholarships can help. Online sites like fastweb can help you find scholarships targeted at specific groups of students. Are you a female Armenian engineering student? I bet there’s a scholarship just waiting for you! Don’t forget to contact your high school’s guidance department. They’ll have the inside track on scholarships given by local businesses and families, and you’ll be competing against a much smaller pool of applicants. Warning: legitimate scholarships never ask you to pay money up front for a chance at a scholarship. Beware of scams!
4. Merit scholarships are given by colleges to entice certain students to attend, especially students whom they predict will have lots of choices. If your student is a great athlete, a talented artist, or an inspired musician, many schools will help you afford their tuition by giving you a merit scholarship. Some schools give scholarships entirely based on SAT scores, so if your student is a good test-taker, it might make sense to pay some money for private tutoring now in the hopes of getting a big hunk of money off the bill later.
You have to be strategic about applying to schools, though. The more selective a school (the harder it is to get into), the less likely it is that they have to convince you to attend. Harvard and MIT don’t have to beg people to attend. A school whose average GPA is 3.4, though, might be willing to cut the tuition bill in half – or more – for a student whose GPA is 3.9 or 4.0. That means, frankly, if you’re hoping for merit money, especially for academic achievement, it’s unlikely that you’ll get that from your first choice school. If you’re willing to attend a school that’s further down on your list, however, you might find private college even more affordable than a public university.
5. Your own state’s universities are usually a bargain. In New York, SUNY schools vary greatly in their selectivity. Geneseo, Binghamton, and Stony Brook rival the most elite private schools in many ways. Other SUNY schools have outstanding reputations for engineering, environmental studies, teacher preparation, and more.
6. Check out other states’ universities. These colleges are my favorites for all-around bang for the buck. You may find the best of both worlds at another state’s school. Many states encourage out-of-state students to attend so their own students can meet a more diverse group of fellow students. Many state universities have campuses a few hours from home, international students, a broad array of majors, worldwide reputations for excellence, and a football team to boot! The University of Virginia and the University of Michigan are world-class institutions, for example. Students at Penn State and the University of Delaware have great experiences. Most states have schools worth checking out, and while you’ll pay more as an out-of-state student, those tuitions don’t come close to those of private universities.
7. Start local and transfer. Another smart strategy for some is to attend a local community college for a year or two and then transfer to the college of your dreams. You might give up that dorm experience, but you’ll cut your college bill in half. And some SUNY schools have campuses where you can attend community college and live on campus! When employers see that you’ve graduated from a certain school, none ever ask, “Did you go there all four years?”
My strongest suggestion for paying for college is this: Parents, talk honestly with your student about what your family can afford to pay. Tell your students, “We can pay $15,000 (or whatever) a year for school. Apply any place you like, and if they can offer us enough in aid and scholarships, you can attend. If they can’t, at least you know you got in.”
If you have any questions, I’ll try my best to help.