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Reality check (private colleges & merit aid) & whether it's worth it to research/apply

FlameHopperFlameHopper 5 replies1 threads New Member
My son is a junior and a full-IB Diploma candidate. Basic stats:
3 HLs (Bio, History, English),
2 SLs (Spanish, Psych)
AP Calc AB.
UW GPA of 4.0.
ACT of 34.
SAT of 1400 (he plans to only use his ACT score for college reporting).
Eagle Scout + we moved cross country late last summer and he dealt with changing high schools (& has done just fine).
No other ECs other than a few minor clubs and volunteer work at a Veteran's Memorial. He gets along well with other students and is moderately social but he is pretty much a brainiac & he loves studying complex systems. No sports experience (or interest).

Our family budget for his college costs is $33k/year/4 years (or roughly $132K). He does *not* want to take on debt & given his propensity for anxiety, we think it's better for him to avoid that for undergrad. We live in Ohio, so in-state access to OSU, Miami U, etc. and ds has stats for strong merit aid from them. Generally speaking, we won't qualify for any need-based aid.

Interests: STEM - medicine, pharmacy, cybersecurity, bioinformatics, or possibly something like toxic waste remediation. He leans toward smaller or mid-sized schools in suburban or perhaps rural (if not too far out) areas. Urban & larger can be OK if there are walking places/spaces, as walking/jogging in nature is how he de-stresses. No big geographic preference other than he doesn't want to live on or near a fault-line and, since we've always lived north, he'd prefer not to do the lowest states (FL, AL, TX, etc)...however, those states seem to have some of the best aid, so he/we may need to be open to that. In short, so far he's pretty flexible on where he goes.

I'm wrestling with how far to cast the net & how much time to spend on doing so. We've toured several private and/or OOS colleges and we've done a lot of research (including on this board)....what we've discovered is that while some OOS/private *do* have very good merit aid, especially for someone with his stats, it also seems that most private colleges' COA are ~$70K a year and "excellent merit aid" equals $20 - $30K/year (which is excellent, don't get me wrong), but that still leaves a gap of up to $70K total (for 4 years). OOS school costs can be somewhat lower, with some coming in at ~$55K annual COA, but they don't offer as much merit aid to OOS students (which is understandable...I'm not complaining, just stating facts), so there often still seems to be a not-inconsiderable gap after running the costs. The best merit aid options seem to come from "one- (or two-) tier-down" schools (that's not meant to be an insult ) who want more upper-stats student to enroll. I've found a few of them so far, but it takes a lot of time to research & vet them.

We've both already spent hours learning all of the above and I don't know how much more time to put into this process (part of me I think is looking for that perfect unicorn school where the heavens part & golden light streams down and I then know it's Time. To. Stop. Looking. :-)

If you're still with me, I'd love to hear your thoughts on:
1) whether my stated assumptions here are correct, and we should just bag it and stay in-state, or
2) whether you have a "Oh, but you *really* should check out _______" reaction, and/or
3) anything else you have to offer

Thanks much in advance.
26 replies
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Replies to: Reality check (private colleges & merit aid) & whether it's worth it to research/apply

  • STEMFocusSTEMFocus 31 replies2 threads Junior Member
    Suggest check out Centre College in KY, those stats should be able to get in your cost range: $53k/yr COA, $23 to 27k/yr possible. College of Wooster in OH may be close, worth a check, maybe take a shot at Denison (more likely ends up in the $40k + cost range though). Also Ursinus in PA, scholarships available at $35k/yr and $67k COA, should come in for your target, Earlham in IN may also be worth check. Good luck!
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  • taverngirltaverngirl 1461 replies38 threads Senior Member
    I have two kids with stats lower than your S. Between them they applied to about 20 schools, the majority of which were private and ranked in the 30-200 range. Our flagship wasn't on the list because neither wanted a school that large. Almost all of them came within your budget. And better aid did not always come from the lower ranked schools. One of my son's largest merit awards came from his reach school. We basically developed a list of schools based on what my kids were looking for in a college. After that I did the research about which schools seemed like they would be affordable. For D I used NPCs and CC; for son I didn't bother with the NPCs, just came on here and did some research. I think it was worth it. If you don't want to put time into it, have your son apply where he wants, and tell him he can only choose a school that fits within your budget. With his stats he should have some great options.
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  • Eeyore123Eeyore123 1747 replies22 threads Senior Member
    If he is good with tOSU, the process can likely be easy. If you want something smaller, there are some LACs that can get in your price range (Lawerence U, Rhodes, etc). If you are a full pay family with a $33k budget, it is hard to pass on tOSU. We are also full pay and in Ohio. My DS decision is coming down to tOSU vs one of the more highly ranked schools where he was accepted with a significant difference in price. The one thing that I would watch out for is budget creep. It likes to move up when you aren’t watching.
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  • chaphillmomchaphillmom 119 replies11 threads Junior Member
    We discovered a number of options for high stat kids like your son. Do you know how important it is to him to go to a private school, or a small school? There will be a lot of suggestions based on kids who got great merit aid for particular schools and programs. In our case- DS20 had good outcomes applying to a few schools known for guaranteed merit aid. What we discovered is that even though they are large public universities, they each had great 'specialty' programs that could help him create a much more personalized experience. With your sons stats, he would qualify for full (or close to full) tuition, leaving you with about 12-20k per year for living expenses/ books/ travel etc. A couple of well known examples are University of Alabama, University of Arizona, University of New Mexico.

    Also- and idea how he did on his PSAT? If he is a potential NMF or NMS, some schools have some really fantastic merit opportunities.
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  • mamaedefamiliamamaedefamilia 3626 replies24 threads Senior Member
    Given that he is interested in cybersecurity, he might want to look at WVU. Full cost OOS is 39K but there are OOS scholarships of 16K (or possibly more) which would come in under your budget. The town and surrounding area are said to be pleasant and depending on where you are in OH, it could be drivable.

    I believe their NPC calculates possible merit if you plug in test scores/GPA.

    https://financialaid.wvu.edu/home/scholarships/freshmen/non-residents#sod
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  • vonlostvonlost 19273 replies15808 threads Super Moderator
    Your son’s stats could qualify for schools that meet full need, but they may include the manageable Federal loans (eg, $19,000 over four years) as part of the package. Reed comes to mind.
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  • FlameHopperFlameHopper 5 replies1 threads New Member
    Thanks to all for your speedy & informative replies. I'll try to quickly respond to each here:

    @STEM - Thanks for the specific suggestions. I'll ask son to evaluate & run the NPC/check into scholarships.
    @tavern - That's a good point... I think as he starts to get more specific (hopefully), we might select a few "reaches" based on location & promising merit aid & be open to see what happens.
    @Eeyore...I think it's going to be hard to beat either tOSU or Miami for costs, as I suspect ds will get strong merit aid from each. We've planned for some budget creep (our upper limit is $35K/year, but we're telling him to select for $32.5/yr now, since it will creep...although, again, that's an argument for a state school, since some (all?) of them have the tuition freeze option for incoming freshmen.
    @chaphill. Good point. He has had a slight preference for smaller schools, just because he does better in a more connected environment (emotionally). However, as you note, some large schools have "small school" options/programs within them, and that might be ideal for him. If he decides to do pre-med, professor access will be important. And I have to edit my OP - he actually hasn't taken the SAT, the listed score *is* his PSAT scrore. His selection index was 213; not high enough in OH.
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  • amsunshineamsunshine 855 replies8 threads Member
    If 1400 is his PSAT score, consider having him take the SAT in the fall, which is likely to be much higher. His ACT correllates roughly to an SAT of 1500 or so. He may be able to beat that.
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  • mtnsun13mtnsun13 35 replies0 threads Junior Member
    I agree about retesting. It makes all the difference with merit aid.

    If you don't mind the South, we researched many small to medium size private schools all with great merit aid. With your son's stats, you might could get close to your budget with some merit aid at TCU, Baylor & SMU.
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  • chmcnmchmcnm 473 replies6 threads Member
    Your assumptions match what we’re seeing for S20. We’re in PA. He’s getting $20-30k year in merit plus honors programs. No FA. These are private schools ranked in the 40-100 range.

    I suspect he’ll attend one of our state flagships for cheap with merit or we will up the budget which is $35k/year.

    The 2 schools that we would up the budget are probably worth it. We can tell he’s excited about one of them but he’s trying to stay low key. He’s frugal.

    His stats are higher but not elite higher. A 1500 SAT seems to be the starting point for top scholarships.
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  • holychildholychild 268 replies7 threads Junior Member
    Check out Case Western, University of Miami and SUNY schools (they give money to outs of state students). I think you should apply to lots of schools. Your choices are going to be narrowed down by the major. You don't have to visit all the schools before being accepted. Check the CDS to see if demonstrated interest is required and do that in other ways if you can't visit.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 9265 replies93 threads Senior Member
    Your S would get full tuition and honors college at U of Akron which is still strong in STEM, especially engineering. Might be a good safety school to add to the list.

    RPI could come close to budget with merit $ (COA would have been $38K for us with D's merit awards).

    Purdue has a great pharmacy program but their COA for OOS would be closer to $40K and they aren't great with aid.

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  • FlameHopperFlameHopper 5 replies1 threads New Member
    Thanks for the continued input.
    @Von...thanks...I think he'll apply to some in-state & then we'll throw in several OOS/private to see how things stack up. I'm sure some offers may contain loans, which ds can then decide to reject (or not).

    @amsun / @mtnsun - I mistakenly listed a SAT - it was the PSAT ds took & got a 1400. However, he rec'd a 34 on his ACT & we were/are planning on reporting that & not the PSAT. Is there a reason he should take the SAT as well, given that he has an ACT of 34? (I'm not being defensive here...truly am wondering if there is an advantage to having him do so.)

    @chm - I appreciate hearing that you have had similar, validating experiences. I realize that it's worthwhile to apply to several schools, including some that may not make the financial mark...however, I also have to weigh how much effort to put into finding those & for my son to put into applications. It's quite the process!

    @holy - yea, we actually are going to go visit CW. I do appreciate hearing that about the SUNY schools, as hubby & I really like upstate NY & that would give us a chance to spend more time there! :O One question...how do I find/check the Common Data Set for each school - is that on the school's web site? Or is that contained in some other place? (Yes, I'm a newbie!)

    @momof. Hm, I wasn't even aware of the U of Akron. They do sound like a good safety, so we'll check into that. I also appreciate the mention of RPI, as that is one school we were eyeballing and contemplating if we wanted to wade in further. We'll check into it more. And I've also heard that Purdue is limited with OOS merit aid, so not sure if we'll go that route or not.
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  • chmcnmchmcnm 473 replies6 threads Member
    Just Google the school name and CDS and you should find a link on the school's website. I think all schools put them on their website somewhere.

    A 34 ACT is equivalent to a 1500 SAT I believe. How close was he to getting a 35? Prep classes do work so maybe worth it to get a 35 or higher. A 1500/34 or higher is where the bigger scholarships kick-in. Spend more time researching, visiting, and writing essays...and there will be a lot of essays.

    The reality is that an in-state public school is the most likely option in the end unless you up the budget at least a little. I keep reminding him that most of his classmates go to Pitt or Penn State because of cost, not because they can't go anywhere else. If you do up the budget just be sure it's for the right school. Most of the privates we've gotten down to $38-45k/year with merit.

    Knowing what I know now I'd cap applications at 10. Too many essays and research. In the end you can only attend one school. I'd also tell your son to focus on fit, vibe, and the type of kids he wants to be around at school. My son focused more on majors, cost, location, and outcomes. Now he's looking at the social aspect. Kind of late in the game. There's one school that he really seems to fit in with the kids and its the only school he's waiting for a decision (deferred EA) and it's above budget but we'll pay it if he gets in...its a top notch school that he smiles about.

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  • TheodenTheoden 251 replies7 threads Junior Member
    edited February 26
    It sounds like you've got a great kid there.

    I don't know your income and if you are full-pay or not. Some schools like Colby College in Maine, which doesn't offer merit, will charge 15K if you make 150K. So even with need-based aid, you might do well to explore schools that don't offer merit.

    The real thing is to look at is the *net price calculators* on each college's site. You might be able to afford a NESCAC school (again I don't know your income).

    Check out these schools: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_Ivies

    Some of the above schools offer no merit, some do.

    Regarding merit...some schools offer up to 35K in merit scholarships and tuition is somewhere around 60K. Lot's of these "hidden gem" schools are in the 50-100 ranking range of the USNWR under National Liberal Arts Colleges. They generally offer nice merit and are sometimes 10-15K cheaper than the premier liberal arts colleges .

    I would suggest looking at Colleges that Change Lives (the book). It's full of these type of schools. They also formed a consortium of sorts. https://ctcl.org/ see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colleges_That_Change_Lives

    Some I know off the bat that offer solid merit:

    Allegheny
    Knox
    College of Wooster
    Beloit
    Ursinus

    My son's stats weren't nearly as good as yours, and he did very well with merit at Allegheny and Knox.

    Other schools outside this consortium that also offer merit:

    Muhlenberg
    Susquehanna
    Gettysburg

    I'll PM you and you can respond if you have any questions. You need to have 25 replies (posts) to be able to initiate a PM.

    --Alan




    edited February 26
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  • CollegefortwinsCollegefortwins 228 replies27 threads Junior Member
    We were in OH when my DD was applying to college and our deal with her was that she could go to a private if it came in at about the same cost as OSU. College of Wooster did that...she did have loans, but our ceiling wasn’t quite as high as yours. Can’t rave enough about it - she just got accepted to a fully funded PhD program at Northwestern and I credit the amazing profs at Wooster.

    DS19 applied to CoW last year as well, with stats similar to your son’s, and also got a very affordable package. Without loans, our cost likely would have been around $30k. (He chose elsewhere.)
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  • FlameHopperFlameHopper 5 replies1 threads New Member
    @Alan/Theoden. I appreciate that information. I have heard of CTCL but will take the next step and look at their web site. I've done several NPCs at private schools, until I realized that we were never going to qualify for need-based aid, but perhaps it is more college-dependent than I first thought, so I'll take a stab at the ones you have here & see where we end up at there.

    @College. Ooooh, thanks for mentioning that. We are headed up over spring break to tour Case Western, so I think we will stop at Wooster as well.
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  • TheodenTheoden 251 replies7 threads Junior Member
    @FlameHopper as an example.

    Look at Ohio Wesleyan (it's in the CTCL list)

    https://www.owu.edu/admission/financial-aid-scholarships-tuition/

    Knox College (it's in the CTCL list)

    https://www.knox.edu/admission/scholarships

    Regarding a need-based school...have a look at Colby, which was discussed.

    https://www.colby.edu/admission/commitment/

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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2076 replies34 threads Senior Member
    What about WPI?
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  • FlameHopperFlameHopper 5 replies1 threads New Member
    @Theoden. Thanks for putting together these links for me. Ohio Wesleyan is a relatively easy drive for us, so I think we'll take a look at it. I'll see if ds is interested in either of the other two. :-)
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