either help me justify the cost or help me find some reason to hold on to hope :)

Macalester sounds like everything my son is looking for in a college, except for proximity to home, and that can be worked around with a short flight. The only real sticking point is the cost. Our highly regarded flagship public costs less than half of Macalester’s COA. Even though I truly believe Macalester is the perfect school for him, can anyone justify paying $266,000 over the four years instead of $130,000?

Does Macalester ever give $35,000/year merit aid? (I’m not asking if my son has a chance to get that kind of merit aid, just whether they ever do give out that much.)

Note: yes, of course we will submit the FAFSA, but I’ve done every aid calculator for every college he’s interested in, and the result is consistently a resounding “no aid for you!” (I swear the computer guffaws at me each time, too. lol)

Macalester is truly an outstanding college on so many fronts. Learn from my mistakes and approach this not just on a purely financial perspective but also from the perspective of your son will be going to a school during his most critical formative years. We, like you were in this same scenario even though Macalester was the much much better fit. Our state school was much cheaper, especially with the merit scholarships. But with most state schools facing some budget issues, they are forced to bring in more students causing overcrowding off classes and ultra-competitive departments that you must apply for. Throw in TAs and large lecture halls. Plus plenty of other students that are there to have a good time with the numerous opportunities to have fun and suddenly grades slip. That happened to us and the major my D was trying for was going to delay her by a year. Classes that she needed in her junior year were only available the following Sr year. Discouraged, she switched majors which also caused delays. All in all, 5 and half years to graduate with a degree and not so great GPA. Our D was bright, a stellar student in Top 1% of her class and SAT scores and I NEVER imagined this would happen. There is a reason State schools have such a high drop out rate.
Now back to Mac, we have friends that did send their daughter there. She was surrounded by other A+ students, a very collaborative environment and professors that go out of their way to ensure you learn the material. They want you to succeed. So, in the end, our friends did pay more but their daughter graduated in 4 years and is off to medical school. My daughter was considered the better student but in the wrong learning environment. Her options are now more limited, med school pretty much out of the question and she is still trying to decide what to do next.
I would say the money we saved was not worth it.

You aren’t going to get the Mac cost down to the cost of your in-state U. No, Mac doesn’t give merit awards that large. I’ve heard $20K. But you should read the Mac acceptance threads for the past few years to confirm.

There are certainly decent LACs that come in with lower costs than Mac. My kid found Lawrence, for example, was a bit cheaper to start with and gave her more merit than Mac. It didn’t bring the cost down to state U level, but it was less expensive. Luther is another that is cheaper to start with, and might give a good student some merit to bring the cost down somewhat.

Another school my kid liked that was cheaper than Mac was St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Public liberal arts college in Maryland. A bit remote, summer camp sort of feel, all in $43K/year plus travel for OOS students. Again— less than Mac.

Not sure what state you are in, but if you have reciprocity with MN, then UMN-Morris has a LAC feel.

@Charlietrojan, your response helped me more than you could know. I’m sorry about your daughter’s experience, but thank you so much for sharing it with me.

@intparent, I appreciate your straightforward response. I suspected that 20K was the max because I had gone through the Mac acceptance threads; I just didn’t want to believe it. That puts Macalester out of reach for us.

We are definitely looking at other LACs. Macalester just had that ideal combination: location in a vibrant city with lots of connections for internships and easy access via air, high-caliber students who are equally intellectually curious, geographical/international diversity of the student body, no Greek life, left-leaning, secular… Other LACs offer a similarly intimate setting, strong relationships with professors, and a program that allows for more exploration, but fall short in some other key area. Lawrence and St Mary’s, for example, look to me like they are a couple of hours from a city, and Lawrence looks like it would be difficult to get to and from several times a year.

No reciprocity with MN – we’re in Michigan.

Kalamazoo? No personal experience but I hear it is a great LAC and has good aid. You might know more, being a MIchigan resident. Not sure what top merit is there. My daughters’ high-stats friend got awesome merit at Knox, but it’s not near a great city. Denison seems amazing and gives merit to top students. Seemed more vibrant than Macalester, but again, it’s at least 25 minutes from a city.

Travel may be a bit of a hassle, but worth it if you can knock $10K off the price a year. Lawrence has more of a town than St Mary’s —Appleton is no large city, but it isn’t as remote.

Remember that a frosh in college is 2 years older than a HS junior, and can cope with changing planes, finding the airport shuttle, etc. They will travel a couple times a year - winter break, spring break. Maybe Thanksgiving, although my kids far from home didn’t.

There are few LACs really in cities. Students have less time for internships during the year than you might think, too. As long as they hustle for summer internships & take advantage of things like research opportunities on campus, they don’t necessarily need to be in a city.

If your kid wants a LAC experience, you aren’t eligible for need based aid, and can’t pay the cost of the higher ranked LACs even with merit, you are probably going to have to make some compromises.

@bobo44, We do plan to look into Kalamazoo. You’d think that as an almost lifelong Michigan resident I’d know more, but until fairly recently, I didn’t know Kalamazoo College existed. It’s odd – no one I know seems to have heard of it, though everyone knows other small privates in Michigan like Alma, Albion, Calvin, Hillsdale, Hope.

I’ve read a lot about Denison, and in many ways it seems like a good fit. It also seems to have quite a party scene. My son has said he wants to avoid a school heavy in “dude-bros”, which as near as I can understand are personalities like stereotypical frat guys or jocks who drink every weekend. Ditto Knox. Can you comment on that?

@intparent, you are right that we are going to have to compromise. It’s a bummer, but that’s life. I need to get over it and keep moving. Thanks for the tough love.

I’m not too concerned about my young adult changing planes, finding a shuttle, and so on. It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be any public transportation that reaches outposts like Appleton or St. Mary’s or Grinnell. I hope you will tell me differently! I am kind of hung up on what I see as the difficulty of travel (or excessive travel time), so if you can clear that up for me, it would be a load off my mind. Bear in mind that even some places that connect to public transportation, like Knox, would take a full day of travel by train, which isn’t reasonable, imo.

Again showing my ignorance here: how do kids at rural colleges get hooked up with summer internships?

Denison has more than its share of “dude-bros”. I would not say it matches what you are looking for. Maybe Knox, but visit and see what you think. My kid didn’t care for it when she visited.

Remember that all these colleges have a fair number of kids coming from far away, so there are always kids dealing with the transportation to and from campus. Colleges usually provide info, too. Here is a link to Lawrence’s page on this, for example:


One of my kids went to Dickinson in PA. Nearest airport is Harrisburg, and that was never a direct flight from our home in MN. So she had two hops, then some kind of shuttle from Harrisburg to the college. But it always worked out. They ran bussed to the Philadelphia airport, too, I think, but I don’t think she ever did that.

Regarding internships, many students do not have internships in the cities they go to college in (or even live in when they are not in college). Most companies and organizations advertise online. The career center on campus can help them get hooked up with internships. They will help them with resumes, identifying target companies or organizations, mock interviews, etc. For example, one of my kids had internships with the State Department, with a US senator in DC, and with an organization that teaches summer programs for high potential low income kids. My other kid got research positions on campus every summer (she was in a STEM field). But quite a few colleges recruited for internships on her campus. We have an intern starting in our office in Seattle next week who is from the southern US, attends college at a Washington state college on the other side of the state, and has an internship in Seattle for the summer. The world is connected online, and that is very advantageous for students. Internships aren’t very local these days in the age of Skype interviews, and online hiring through sites like LinkedIn.

Regarding compromising, it feels like you are falling into the “dream school” trap. Mac is a nice school. I lived a half dozen blocks from it for 10 years as an adult, and often went to campus for events and activities. One of my kids applied and was accepted, and I know several kids who attended there. But it isn’t a perfect school. It is a pretty typical second tier LAC.

Lawrence is 6 miles from ATW. They also have directions for traveling from Milwaukee or Chicago by bus. http://www.lawrence.edu/admissions/visit/getting_here For school breaks, they run a subsidized shuttle: https://www.lawrence.edu/s/parents/transportation

Knox has an airport shuttle for students (https://www.knox.edu/offices/student-development/shuttle-information) and will set up rides for prospects.

Grinnell is harder for visitors, but runs a student shuttle: https://www.grinnell.edu/about/offices-services/facilities-management/shuttles

For internships, the college career services office would be the place to start.

You guys are the best! Thank you for all the links and commentary! You have been great help.

There are some great schools out west. One that surprised us for my next in line to go to college is the University of Redlands in California. They give GREAT merit aid for someone with top stats. The campus and climate are great.
Very small classes and while the student body may not be as good as a Grinnell or Macalester, being a big fish in this small pond may be a great thing. The other one that we have heard great things about is the University of Puget Sound, they also give lots of merit aid. Beloit is another one to not leave out of the conversation - cheaper tuition with great merit and the reviews I saw from the survey on liberalartscolleges.com were very positive.
The good thing is that there are many great LACs that with the right merit award can get you in the ballpark of a state school. And like my previous post, I think a little extra cost upfront is a great future investment.

Whether the cost is justified for you is going to depend upon your financial situation. For us, as a retired parent with a freshman in university I was not able to justify spending over $60,000 per year for a university when there are excellent financially more sensible options. Similarly, if you need to take on debt for university, or if this high a price causes financial hardship for you, then spending >$60k per year would seem absurd to me.

You should run the NPC on schools that you are considering. At least for us the NPC’s were quite accurate and did in some cases accurately predict merit scholarships. If you are divorced, own rental property or a farm or a small business, or are self employed they might be less accurate. With merit we found quite a few schools in the US with a total price not much over $40k per year.

My youngest was also interested in a relatively small university. We found several very good universities in Canada for which the total cost of attendance for an international student is very reasonable, and about the same as or slightly less than our in-state flagship. We had individual reasons why the cost was even lower for us (such as dual citizenship), but the schools we looked at (Mount Allison, Acadia, St Francis Xavier) are very good and very reasonably priced for international students when compared to small US schools such as Macalester or the one’s that we looked at (Bowdoin, Colby, Wellesley, …).

It’s pretty simple. If the school says you can’t afford to go there, he ain’t goin’! Seriously, no bachelors degree is worth $260k, no matter how perfect it is. That’s more than most medical degrees. If you’re going to spend that much money, send him to his home flagship and let him get a master’s degree. That would be a far better value for the money.

Well, I will disagree with most people and say that the decision just based on what school is cheaper is a very faulty one based with a ton of risk. Look at the state schools grad rates and even the flagships like Michigan only approach the high 80% after 6 years. Other state schools with a less able student body fare even worse with a much higher drop out rate. Plus the bigger risk is trying to get into your dept. Flagships will often have very high entrance criteria for their most popular programs. The mega 101 intro classes serve as a weed out for those depts that are overcrowded. Add in poor advising, profs that use TAs way more than they should and its no wonder that so many switch their majors so many times. Small LACs tend to be much more caring in this sense and the advising and getting you on the correct path is emphasized at schools like Mac. Teenagers do not always know what they want to do.
Stae schools carry a lot more risk for that cheaper tuition.
I look at what I really saved (about a $120k) and I would gladly give that money back to get my D on the career path she really wanted. I think the state school impacted my daughter’s future career in ways that we did not predict. I think of her earnings over a lifetime vs her lab research assistant job now (nothing wrong with that but money is tight for her).
College fit trumps saving money in my book especially if its close to being in your budget. Macalester and other schools like it are worth every penny if it is the right fit.

Where in Michigan do you live? Pretty sure there are direct flights DTW to Appleton.

What does he want to study? What are his stats?

Has he considered Brandeis? Drew University? Goucher? New College of Florida?

I don’t think many people have suggested the state school route for a kid who likes Mac, although certainly Michigan is a world class university, and MSU matches most state flagships. But since it sounds like the kid (or parent?) prefers a small school, those are the suggestions we’ve been making.

I think from Michigan there are several states that are driveable in addition to very short flights.
Do take a look at Kenyon, Wooster in Ohio, Wabash in Indiana, and Hobart and Hartwick in NY which both have given very good merit scholarships. Lawrence and Beloit all came through with very nice merit awards and since Beloit starts about almost $15k cheaper than Mac or Grinnell, it came closest to a state tuition for us.

@Charlietrojan "Well, I will disagree with most people and say that the decision just based on what school is cheaper is a very faulty one based with a ton of risk. "

There are thousands of colleges in the United States, so even if Mac is too pricey there are other options than your state’s huge flagship party school. OP should look around now and track down places where the cost is lower or more merit might be available. It’s rarely an either-or situation.

Also, my DD got good aid at Muhlenberg, which is in Allentown PA (which is the third largest city in PA – who knew?) Keep going down the list of LACs until you find one you love that will love your DS back in ways that make it affordable. If you have a 29 ACT then Georgetown might not be impressed as much as St Anselm’s, or Gustavus vs Hamline. But keep looking. There’s no single best school, and many are pretty cool places full of pretty cool people, so don’t settle for the recognizable.

I suggest attending the Colleges that Change Lives (CTCL) info session and college fair. So many great schools out there (not just CTCL) but many of the CTCLs have a good amount of merit aid available. There is one in Michigan in August. https://ctcl.org/dearborn-mi-august-18-2018/. I know it’s late, so I’d suggest using their “request for information” as you’ll hopefully get pamphlets mailed to you.
We love Mac, Grinnell, Knox, Beloit and Willamette (OR) among others.

Keep narrowing what your students goals, interests and personality/learning styles are. Discuss majors (and likelihood of changing majors) and possibility of attending grad school vs career-oriented (after undergrad) pursuits. This will help filter out colleges, as you’ll start to see the strengths and weaknesses of each college.