Choossing Colleges You Can Afford

<p>After endless threads from dissapointed parents and children, I thought it was time there was a thread on paying attention to affordability when applying to colleges. Here are a few of my thoughts and I hope others will add:</p>

<p>-- Calculate your EFC here on CC or on Princeton's web site and believe it! While
it might seem insane to you, it is what colleges will expect you to pay.</p>

<p>-- Don't count on merit aid unless your child's stats are in top 5% for school.</p>

<p>--Understand that your home equity will sink you at private schools. Yup, they
think you'll sell the house.</p>

<p>--There is a good reason that many very bright kids end up at state schools.<br>
Unless you are extremely frugal, most middle class families can't pay private
college tuition without living on dog food.</p>

<p>I would add to that, don't forget to calculate the "soft costs" - not just books, but materials, clothing, technology (hardware and software), health needs, travel, potential cell phone overage, etc. It does get easier after the first year but there may still be unexpected expenses.</p>

<p>Amen, Amen, Amen. </p>

<p>I'll add a quick example . A football playing Val (our's from last year-great kid.) from Texas applies to Rice and Duke with great and varied long term EC's and a 1520. He never found out how good a merit pkg he would get. He was rejected. (Got rejected also by Stanford and Yale. Got in at U of Chicago but zero merit aid) Rice,Chicago and Duke are great schools with generous packages. Just don't count on getting one of them. Ever increasingly, I'd put Emory,Vandy,Tulane, CMU, Davidson, Wake Forest and certainly Wash U in that category of "yes, they have merit, but no-you better not count on it."</p>

<p>Be realistic in your search. If you cannot pay full freight and your EFC is likely to be higher than you can pay-find the financial safety your kid would love to attend before you do anything else. Then find another one.</p>

<p>-"There is a good reason that many very bright kids end up at state schools. Unless you are extremely frugal, most middle class families can't pay private college tuition without living on dog food."</p>

<p>Amen. Remember that before slamming merit aid. It helps a lot of kids go to private colleges regardless of the school's purposes it serves.</p>

<p>I'd add: Understand how to compare financial aid packages. There's a big difference between a $20,000 package comprised of $15,000 in grants and the rest in loans/work study and a $20,000 package that is all loans and work study. </p>

<p>I believe it's very important to look beyond the raw numbers colleges list about their financial aid. (i.e., "80% of our students receive financial aid with the average package being $28,000) and ask the tough questions about how the typical aid package is broken down at individual schools up front. Schools will tell you this if you ask, if they don't US News & World Reports Ultimate College Guide is a good and fairly reliable source.</p>

<p>Excellent thread - thank you, zagat.</p>

<p>I would modify two of zagat's points.</p>

<li>I agree, do not EXPECT merit aid. Assume nothing. However, at some schools, being in the top 15% or so of stats, with no hook, but WITH A WELL-DONE APPLICATION, MIGHT get you substantial merit aid. It happened to my S.</li>

<p>-if the school uses CSS Profile as well as FAFSA, they won't expect your parents to SELL that house, but they will expect that they might borrow against it.</p>

<p>I'm still a fan of checking out schools that have "automatic" merit aid for freshmen, based on class rank, GPA, and test scores. In our case, one of these schools turned out to be the top choice (not even counting the merit money), and it's one that might have been overlooked otherwise.</p>

<p>One refinement on the merit aid angle - make sure you understand what's required to KEEP the aid in subsequent years. No one can predict how a kid will do in any given program, but you can compare one merit offer against another.</p>

<p>Some private schools only require the FASFA and not the PROFILE. There can be a big difference. One family will do better with a school requiring the PROFILE, another may do better with the school only requiring the FASFA.
Schools that use the PROFILE usually have more money, but that does not mean you will get any of it. (examples are many of the schools named above by curmudgeon)</p>

<<make sure="" you="" understand="" what's="" required="" to="" keep="" the="" aid="" in="" subsequent="" years="">></make></p>

<p>I woke up worrying about that one this morning. Son has to maintain a 3.0 average to keep his merit money. We've told him that if he loses it he'll either be back home or he'll have to take out loans. But that really is a scary prospect. On the other hand, I don't think he would have had the opportunity to go to a rpivate LAC without the merit money.</p>

<p>I suggest telling your child very early on in the process - like on the first day! - how much you can afford/are willing to pay per year, and discussing the various ways to fill in any gaps. The student can then go into the search knowing whether a particular school is financially possible (and if it isn't, leave it off the list). If parents will pay for any school regardless of cost, wonderful! This will simplify their student's process, and the kid will "only" have to do whatever it takes these days to get into the school of his/her dreams. Kids whose parents put a limit on what they can/will pay need to consider affordability as well as other factors in determining fit.</p>

<p>Our own kids have been very accepting when we've told them what we can afford (basically the cost of a good out-of-state public school). They've found several great options within that budget - one eventually chose an excellent OOS public, one a private university with a generous merit aid program. Neither has pined for the Ivy League or other schools that don't offer merit scholarships. (Though in New York, even the Ivy League is an affordable possibilty for in-state students who enroll in one of Cornell's statutory colleges.) If our financial picture improves for #3, she'll have more options, but I doubt she'll have carte blanche when she makes up her list.</p>

<p>I think the trouble, and heartbreak, occur when parents, either through ignorance or a head-in-the-sand refusal to accept the shocking realities of college funding, tell students they can apply wherever they want, then renege when the financial aid award arrives (or doesn't).</p>

<p>As others have said, not everyone can afford a Mercedes. Life is good for people who drive Hondas, too.</p>

<p>Frazzled1 posted what I was going to say. It is so hard to admit to your kids - your KIDS - that you cannot provide the Mercedes for them, but you have to look at it that way. Does it make sense to buy your newly minted driver a brand new BMW to park in the high school lot - probably not, can some parents afford it? - yes - is it a good idea even for those who can afford it? - probably no.</p>

<p>The biggest problems arise from either not knowing or not sharing. Give them a chance to grow up, they will surprise you.</p>

The biggest problems arise from either not knowing or not sharing.


<p>Sometimes, but not always. As parents, we kept saying "IF there is enough financial aid" but our brains, along with our son's, kept privately thinking "WHEN we get enough financial aid". All of our hearts were secretly optimistic, and so were disappointed. Although this is pushing me into the realm of the cynical, I hope my son still retains his optimistic demeanor.</p>

<p>For families earning less than $60,000 a year, who think they don't have a prayer in heaven for their child to attend a dream LAC -- do not be dissuaded. Try anyway. You may be surprised to find out that sometimes miracles do happen. (our S got 85% of his entire college costs paid for - from grant and w/s money)</p>

<p>I should add that he also applied to several affordable safetys including a state school that we could have afforded -- so we were careful to plan according to (our almost non-existant) budget. We also nixed the idea of student loans of more than $10,000 a year for him or us - feeling that he didn't need to be burdened withso much debt so early in life and for us - well, we have two more children trailing behind him.</p>

<p>I'm wondering what the problematic income range really is. At $60K, unless you own an expensive home with lots of equity, I would think you'd get lots of aid. My guess is the problem income range is $100K-$150,000. Sounds like a lot of money some places, but if you live in NY, CA and a few other states with high cost of living, it's doubtful you could spend the $40K they expect you to.</p>

<p>"--Understand that your home equity will sink you at private schools. Yup, they think you'll sell the house."</p>

<p>No, they think you'll take out a home equity loan on your house, or refinance your mortgage, just as you would take a loan out if you didn't have a house, or pay out of savings that doesn't have the added value of being able to live inside it (and take a nice fat tax deduction in the process.)</p>



<p>They don't think you'll sell the house; they think you'll take out a second mortgage. I agree that the problem range tends to be $100,000-$150,000.</p>

<p>It sure helps to have 2 kids in college at the same time.. I will encourage my children to plan their families accordingly, lol! My son's 1st year and my D's last year will be rough but the years in between are doable</p>

<p>I agree that it is important to discuss that finances will be an issue in determining final college selection, and that it is important to build in a financial safety as well as a scholarly safety -- BUT... it's hard to know what your kid is going to be offered in aid or scholarships, and what the college financial aid packages are going to be, and how much money you actually can scrape up to pay for school, until you've actually done it. It was hard for some of us (me) to figure out what college we could afford, never having gone through the whole process before. Now that we've done it, I'm still not sure how we are affording it!<br>
Apply to at least one financial safety, and then risk applying at a lot of other places and see how the aid/scholarships work out!</p>