How do you best approach the creation of a college list (specifically ED)?

I always see conflicting answers when asking this question. My high school and my parents always told me to search for colleges I love, no matter their price. CC tends to be more on the realistic side. People on this platform promote the usage of NPCs to narrow your college list. The college of my dreams is Duke. I was planning on applying ED for many reasons: 1) I’ve fallen in love with every aspect of the school 2) Admissions rates are higher for ED applicants (this is definitely not the thing that’s most important to me. I truly love the school) 3) I have sibling legacy, which I know isn’t really a thing, but apparently it is at Duke. I don’t want to trap my family into a financial aid package that’s too difficult to recover from, if I even get accepted ED, but it really is my favorite college. According to the NPC, financial aid should cover around 60% of the cost of attendance, but that’s still a lot for my family to pay for. Should I still apply ED?

Have you shown the NPC results to your parents?

If you parents are fine with the cost, I would be inclined to believe them.

Regardless of the answer to this question, you also need to make sure that you have two safeties lined up that you would be happy attending.

If you are very happy with your safeties, then two safeties plus Duke might be all that you need to apply to. However, if this is the plan then first make sure that your safeties really are safeties. Then ask yourself the question: “If I am turned down at Duke and get to attend one of my safeties, is there another school that I would regret not applying to?”.

Yes, I wouldn’t be as worried about sticker shock if your parents already put your sibling through Duke - clearly they understand what it costs. But the decision about how much to stretch financially for undergrad also depends on your post-college plans. If you want to study engineering and go straight into a well-paying job, that’s quite different from if you want to go to med school or law school. Discuss with your parents where things will stand, financially, by the time you graduate, and whether that aligns with your career goals. It makes no sense to blow all your resources on a “dream school” and then not have the financial resources and freedom to do what you really want to do with that degree when you get out. So, it depends.

What other schools are you interested in, besides Duke?

What is your home state - is your state flagship both an admissions safety and a financial safety that you’d be satisfied to attend?

Are there match and safety schools on your list that have non-restrictive Early Action? (Just based on typical overlap schools with Duke, possibilities might be URichmond, UMiami, Tulane, Miami of Ohio… but without knowing what you want to study and what your other criteria are, I’m just guessing.) It could be nice to have some other decisions besides Duke rolling in early, just in case.

Also, do you have an ED2 school in mind in case Duke doesn’t work out? A few possible examples would be Emory, Wake Forest, William & Mary, WashU… but again I’m just spitballing, without knowing much about you besides your love for Duke.

@aquapt My parents are actually not as familiar with college costs as I would’ve hoped for. My sister was a recruited athlete, so they haven’t paid for Duke at all.

So far, my list is a lot of reach schools that provide good financial aid. My matches/safeties right now are only UIUC (in-state; not great financial aid), BU, and UW-Seattle. I’m having trouble finding matches/safeties that I like and that would give good aid.

UIUC would be a low-match, probably. However, the aid is not very good, so it’s not the best option.

I will be applying to UMich and Tulane EA, so hopefully, I can get some good news earlier in the year.

I haven’t even thought about ED2, but I’m pretty interested in WashU, so I’ll definitely research further into that. Thank you!

Seems like you and your parents need to sit down together in front of a computer and run the net price calculator on the web site of each college that you are interested in. Only then will you be able to know what colleges give “good aid” in the context of what your parents are willing to contribute (without parent or cosigned loans).

I would be mildly surprised if out of state public universities turned out to be as affordable as UIUC in-state.

You need to run the NPCs. At least for us the in-state public universities were the most affordable universities in the US. BU was very expensive for us, but of course your results may be different, and the NPCs should give you a good hint regarding what to expect.

Depending of the OP’s GPA and test scores, OOS colleges could easily be cheaper than UIUC. My kid was accepted to UMN and was offered a $15,000 a year scholarship, which would have mean t$16,600 tuition. In state for UIUC, studying biological sciences, would have cost $17,200.

Ah, well, that’s different if your sister didn’t give your parents experience with the need-based aid process.

I checked your other threads and TBH I’m confused. You mention qualifying financially for Questbridge, yet you say the Duke NPC has you paying 40% of the COA. I can’t picture where you really stand in terms of qualifying for aid. Normally, someone who qualifies for QB would also qualify for need-based aid at UMichican, but then I don’t know why you’d have a 30K EFC at Duke, then… and also don’t know why you wouldn’t qualify for the Illinois Commitment that would make UIUC virtually free.

You really need to sort out where you stand as a financial aid applicant - can you or can you not afford your EFC at full-need-met schools? You really can’t decide about ED, or formulate your application strategy at all, without this info.

You really need some financial safeties. People have made good suggestions on your other threads. Miami of Ohio, ASU Barrett, UA Huntsville, U of Utah Honors College (you’d likely get merit, and you could establish residency in a year and drop the price significantly for the last three years), SD Mines, Iowa State, and the MSEP reciprocity schools: UNL, KU, and U of Akron which is especially known for its work in polymers.

As others have said, you need to get clear on your financial resources and run the NPC’s with accurate info from your parents, and determine whether full-need-met schools should be the goal, or whether low-sticker-price-minus-merit should be the strategy.

You also need to see how much Duke will cost when your sister has graduated. If you have to pay 40% of the cost when she is there, how much is it when it is just you in college? Can your parents pay for all 4 years?

Has your mom been able to find another job yet? When a parent loses their job it can be difficult for them to commit to ED. Have you asked your parents how much they can pay? I wouldn’t apply ED anywhere if the number generated by the school’s Net Price Calculator isn’t one they’re comfortable paying.

@austinmshauri My mother has not been able to find another job. However, I emailed Duke’s financial aid office, and they said that a parent’s loss of job can be considered a “special circumstance” that can change my financial aid package after I receive it. Also, half of my family’s AGI is from money that my father took out of his retirement plan to pay our bills, which is also considered a special circumstance. With that in mind, would it still be okay to apply ED?

I’m not quite sure the degree to which submitting documentation of these special circumstances will impact my financial aid package, but I feel like it’s worth the shot. The estimated net price for Duke when the pension and annuities money is considered is about $10,000 MORE than my parents would like to pay. On the other hand, the estimated net price of Duke when the pension and annuities money is NOT considered is $20,000 LESS than the maximum they were willing to pay. So, even if they don’t change my financial aid to completely disregard the “one-time” income we received this year, but they still change it a little bit, it seems like Duke will be affordable.

Students who need to consider finances, which it seems like you do, shouldn’t apply ED.

Are you running the NPC with 1 in college? Costs will be higher after your sister graduates.

I can tell you that every tuition bill I have ever paid is “more” than I would like to pay. Colleges are completely unmoved by what you or your parents think you can afford.

You have clearly set your cap for Duke- and who knows, the financial powers that be may smile on you. For your sake, I hope that is true- and true in subsequent years.

But in our family, hope is not a strategy.

Also, if one of the Collegekids said to me “I’ve fallen in love with every aspect of the school” I would make them go back, take off their rose colored fantasy glasses and come back with some negative things about the place (person/job/etc) that they would care about irl. Because there is simply no such thing as a perfect college (or house or job or partner): there are always trade-offs, and the hard job is to figure out which ones are truly dealbreakers and which ones you can find ways to live with.

**A) What your family can afford? **

If your family has financial need (according to FAFSA/CSS, not what you think!), you can get need-based grants.
-Look at Net Price Calculators on colleges to see if you would get need based financial aid.
-Apply to Colleges that meet Full need https://blog.■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■/colleges-that-offer-complete-financial-aid

**B) What are your GPA and SAT? **

**C) What do you want to major in? **

**D) What aspects of college are important to you? **

  1. Net Cost.
  2. Career goal – e.g., Architect, Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer, etc.
  3. Major – this may often correlate with your career goal.
  4. Geographic location – how far from home do you want to be? What is the weather like?
  5. Urban/rural/suburban
  6. Number of Undergraduates - Big/Small. Do you want a small Liberal Arts College (LAC) or a big State School?
  7. GPA/SAT/ACT scores
  8. Faculty Student Ratio
  9. % of students that live on campus
  10. % of students Graduating after 4 years
  11. How big is the department for your major? If you are majoring in something that only has a couple of professors, that does not bode well.
  12. Housing- do they offer all 4 years? freshman only?
  13. Is this a commuter school? (do students go home on weekends)
  14. Surrounding area - what is the nearby town/amenities like?
  15. Transportation - how would you get home
  16. AP Credits - can you get credit for AP tests you have taken
  17. Male/Female ratio
  18. Greek life - what % of students are in greek life. Do you care?
  19. Parking
  20. Diversity
  21. Safety

So for my older daughter she knew that she wanted a big school, 3-4 hours away, Math Major, <$30K per year. She came up with a list of public and private colleges. After she found out where she was admitted, she chose amongst the affordable options.
The younger one had a harder time…she wanted Psych major, 1-2 hours away, smaller (but not too small)…I helped her find a candidate. When I noticed she kept comparing all the other schools to that one, I suggested that she just apply ED (it was a state college) and she did and she was admitted.

For both of them I looked for the “best value colleges” and came up with an idea for them (based on what they wanted) and they both ended up at the place I picked.

@bopper Thank you for the list. I’ll try to look at other colleges based off of these criteria.

Thank you all for your responses! I’d like to say that I just sat down with my parents and had an actual conversation about aid, ED, and everything else.

It has been decided that I will ED to Duke. I did not fully grasp our financial situation, but my parents are in agreement that they will be able to handle the cost of Duke, even without the financial aid office considering our one-time income a special circumstance. We’ve worked out a plan, and it seems like it will be just fine. I’m going to graduate with student debt, but who doesn’t? It won’t be debilitating according to the net price calculators.

No need for more responses. I think I’ve finally eased my worries.


Things to consider:

  1. How much student debt? Is Duke worth it compared to a public U?
  2. Do you have siblings? If so, how will their college get paid for?
  3. Keep in mind that if you do get accepted to Duke and it is truly unaffordable you are allowed to decline.