Help finding a college for a nerdy, quirky student

Basically, you are looking at a stretch budget of about $10k, based on federal direct loans plus what you can reasonably expect to earn from high school graduate jobs in the summer and part time in the school year in college.

If your parents will contribute nothing, then:

  1. If they are actually poor, then you may be eligible for need-based financial aid, if they are willing to cooperate with financial aid forms (FAFSA and (for some colleges) CSS Profile). However, many colleges do not give good enough financial aid to bring their net prices down to $10k or less even for students from poor families. The better financial aid colleges are typically more selective.

  2. If they are not poor, so that even good financial aid colleges will not offer need-based aid to get the net price to $10k or less, then you need to hunt for large merit scholarships at colleges that you may be “overqualified” for.

Since you are a sophomore in high school, do your best in high school to maximize the chance of getting a large merit scholarship, or admission to more selective colleges with better need-based financial aid if your parents are poor.


Please run the NPC on Rice, Clarkson, Champlain, Beloit, some of your own state’s universities, some colleges you listed, and report net cost* here.

*Net cost= (tuition, fee, room, board) - (grants, scholarships)

You cannot take loans on your own - your parents do, as cosigners. No bank would reasonably loan money to a teenager without a job nor any collatoral such as a house.

However, you’re ahead of many kids in your situation. Some find out senior year… even in the Spring. You have about 18 months to plan and 6 more months to adjust. You’ll be okay because you have time, motivation, and all of CollegeConfidential ready to help you.

Your best chance is to practice methodically for the SAT (Khan academy has a free course with diagnostic tools etc) and score really high on the PSAT which you’ll take in October junior year. The PSAT leads to a scholarship if you manage to score very high for your state.
Many scholarships are linked to test scores and standardized tests require specific, repeated training. You can also look up “xiggi and silverturtle method”, look at posts in the testing forum.

What’s your EFC?


Rice: $3,768 (I’m surprised by this one)
Clarkson: $27,455
Champlain: $24,929
Dakota State: $17,537
RIT: $31,430
Michigan Tech: $23,651
Missouri University of Science and Technology: $22,692

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You’re witnessing the power of generous meet need schools with Rice. This also indicates that your parents’ income would likely qualify you for Questbridge (Scholarship program: 4-year full ride).
But, next step, would you qualify for it academically ?
To have an idea answer these questions (keeping in mind that as a Sophomore you can address any pb if you want to because you have 4 semesters left while only 3 have gone by.)

  • are you enrolled in Trio, Upward bound, Avid? Could you be?
  • whats your unweighted GPA?
  • any idea of your class rank?
  • do you have a job or family responsibilities (help with the family store, watch ailing grandma or siblings…)?
  • what classes did you take last year?
  • what classes are you taking this year - if semester classes, indicate which ones and whether you’ve chosen what you’d take in the Spring.

One thing to note is that my parents aren’t married. I live with my mom. She makes around $60k. My dad is on disability. Would I still qualify?

Some colleges use only the parent you live with (custodial parent) for financial aid. Others use both parents. Many of the better-financial-aid colleges (including Rice University) use both parents’ finances.

This means that, for the colleges that require both parents’ finances, both must cooperate with financial aid forms, and both of their income and assets will be used. Also, when using the net price calculator at a college that requires both parents’ finances, include both of their income and assets when filling it in to avoid getting an overly optimistic estimate.

You do need to enter your dad’s disability income. But, it’s in a different category from taxable earned income. I don’t believe it should hurt your situation much - clearly, a non-custodial parent on disability isn’t going to have much left over to contribute to your education.

I would suggest giving UA Huntsville a closer look. If your stats turn out as projected and their merit structure holds steady, you’d be looking at a net cost of around 15K before federal aid. (So, if I’m assessing this correctly - and hopefully MYOS et al will correct me if I’m wrong - costs after merit could be covered by Pell + guaranteed loans + work-study & summer earnings - no need for additional loans. See if their NPC confirms this. ) Huntsville is completely different from Tuscaloosa (where the UA flagship is) - it’s a STEM-leaning school in a STEM-oriented city (a hub of aerospace research) which differs from the rest of Alabama even in terrain and climate. It attracts more of a STEM-school flavored student body, has less than 8000 undergrads, has no football team (the only Division 1 sport is Ice Hockey), and isn’t dominated by Greek life. 34% of students are from outside Alabama, which is quite geographically diverse for a public u. The predictable guaranteed merit makes it one you might want to keep on your radar.

There may indeed be schools where you’ll get merit offers that are competitive with this, but you won’t know ahead of time how much they’ll give you. (NJIT is one of these - they definitely give full-tuition awards to high-achieving OOS students, which would bring it into a similar range - potentially worth keeping on radar also if you would enjoy a small, “nerdy” campus with 9000 undergrads, an easy half-hour commuter train ride into NYC.)
But having at least one non-reach school that you know will be affordable is a very good thing.

If you do qualify for Questbridge, definitely pursue that. Apply to their Scholars program for HS juniors next winter:

Another potential to-do list item for Junior year is to get your school to participate in RPI’s Rensselaer Medal program (if they don’t already) and award it to you. This would give you guaranteed 30K merit (I believe) at RPI if accepted, which would cover any gap between their need-based aid and your EFC. Check their NPC to confirm how they would assess your demonstrated need. This is definitely one of the quintessential “nerdy/quirky” schools.


Net price for UA Huntsville is $25,730.

Good job on the NPCs.

Can you answer the questions in #6?

Your strategy to pay for college will be different depending on your answers.

Whether they look at just your mother’s 60K or add non custodial parent disability checks, you’d still qualify for a full ride at most meet-need colleges and at “near full need with merit” or “high merit” likely a lot of aid if you manage to combine things they want (scores, geographical diversity) and other qualities.

Oh, you may also want to try running the NPC for Reed, in Portland, OR. It isn’t as STEMmy as the others we’ve been discussing (no engineering but it does have CS), but it’s definitely known for intellectual intensity and quirkiness (top producer of PhD’s in a number of fields, both STEM and non-STEM… and lots of quirky activities, traditions, etc.), and it’s a full-need-met school. 10:1 student/faculty ratio, and Portland is a great student city. It may tilt a little more political than you prefer, but I think there are plenty of more apolitical Reedies who are just into whatever they’re into. Worth a look anyway, as it’s a very “fit” oriented school that could be a solid admissions match for you if the fit were there.

Also, if you’re open to non-engineering LAC’s with solid CS, nerdy-quirky students, and full-need-met aid, run the NPC’s for Grinnell, in Iowa, and for Carleton and St. Olaf, both in Northfield, MN. (St. Olaf runs a bit more toward the musical end of nerd-dom, but it has excellent math/CS and sciences.) Carleton and Grinnell are Questbridge partner schools, so you could get even better aid at those if you were to match through QB.

And see how Harvey Mudd’s aid (also full-need-met) stacks up, too. Like Rice, it would be a tough admit with a sub-4.0 weighted GPA, but you’re only a sophomore so you probably have a lot of weighting yet to come.

Did the calculator ask for your GPA and test scores? That estimate sounds like OOS Cost of Attendance minus Pell Grant. Auto-merit for your anticipated stats is almost 20K: UAH - Admission & Aid - Freshman Out-of-State Academic Scholarships

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It did. I got the Charger Scholar scholarship for $14,824. (According to the NPC.)

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I’m in Indiana.

Olin as a reach school?

Olin doesn’t have CS. They only have engineering.

URochester ticks pretty much all your boxes. Check out the net price calculator. They meet full need.

My problem with URochester is that they don’t let you declare your major until your sophomore year. I want to start learning things in my major on the first day. Other than that, it’s actually pretty good.

You can still take classes that interest you in freshman year. All my D’s classes freshman year were related to her majors (double major). Their open curriculum is great.

Oh, ok. I’ll look into it.

Olin doesn’t have CS, per se, but many students do engineering with computing, which is like software engineering. That could be appropriate for this student. Culturally, it does fit.