May not qualify for Financial Aid - Advice for older parents nearing retirement age?

I’m pretty new to the forum but have been reading a lot of posts about financial aid, merit scholarships, and the price of full tuition at many of the top schools. My husband and I are older parents. We will be 65 when our daughter graduates from high school in 2020. We are blessed that she is academically very strong and is likely to have the kind of stats that will make her a contender for some top schools. She has expressed an interest in Vanderbilt. I ran the NPC for Vanderbilt and found that our estimated cost per year would be above 75,000 (engineering). We have put away the money for her education and taking it out should not seriously jeopardize the safety of our “golden years” but does it really make sense when in all likelihood she could get serious merit scholarship money or even a full ride from schools like University of Alabama or University of Mississippi. How do we determine if a program is strong enough to warrant spending the full tuition? She is interested in biomedical or biochemical engineering. I just don’t know whether we should let her get her hopes up about such expensive schools. Thanks in advance for any advice that you can offer.

For us, our S was a serious contender for merit awards (was a NMFinalist) and H was definitely eligible for retire (he had both years and age to get a nice pension).

We asked the HS college counselor every year to help recommend Us that we could/should view over the summer near where we were planning to visit that MAY give generous merit to engineering kids like S. We got lists and tried to see some of the Us on it, plus done that each of us was curious about.

We did have S apply to some Us where was likely to be accepted with generous merit aid as well as some very “reach” schools and one school which promised a full-ride and money to travel abroad. In the end, he chose one if the Us that gave him generous merit aid (> 50% tuition) and was very happy there.

Some folks have advocated build the college list from the bottom up–with an academic and financial safety your kid will get into, you can easily afford and your kid will be happy to attend. Spend time finding that good fit. Everything else is gravy. Don’t have ONE dream U, there is good and bad at every school. Sometimes kids shine most when they’re big fish in small ponds.

@HImom Thank you for the good advice. I think you are right about kids shining sometimes when they are big fish in a small pond.

You need to have a budget talk as soon as you can. Does the college fund cover Vandy? If you have a decent college fund, you have more choices and don’t just have to hunt for free rides. For example, your in-state flagship may have bioengineering at a price between full pay at Vandy and free at Ole Miss. Depending on your state there may be tuition discounts available in neighboring states as well.

College visits and research will help you find the best fits for your situation. She should apply to a mix of guaranteed scholarships, competitive merit aid schools, and places with price tags within your budget.

Bioengineering is a crazy popular competitive major right now. For schools that admit by major, expect that the competitive profile to get into bioE will be higher than to get into the college as a whole. Add extra matches and safeties.

@AroundHere Yes we have saved enough that we could pay full price for Vandy or equivalent cost school just not sure it is wise to pay the full amount if she could get a good education in her desired major at other less expensive schools. Thank you for letting me know about how competitive it is getting for bioengineering. I had not realized that - definitely something else I need to be thinking about!

D is going to a Vandy on a full tuition scholarship this fall. She made the decision based on fit and where she will be happiest, giving up MIT and Chicago,etc. There are schools which offers full tuition scholarship or full ride to top applicants, like Vanderbilt, Wash U, ND, GaTech, UNC, etc.

@SincererLove I guess I assumed with so many kids going to Vandy with really high stats that they wouldn’t give out many merit scholarships. I thought that when the time comes we would have to apply ED to increase the chances of getting in and didn’t know how that might impact scholarships.

You could pay for Vandy … or what? The question of what you would do with the money instead is important.

Some kids will choose the cheaper school if they get a share of the leftover funds (for example, to help pay grad school, a car, or for setting up their new apartment after graduation).

What a college degree is “worth” is almost impossible to accurately price. There are too many different factors involved. It definitely depends in part on the individual circumstances.

As others have said, Vandy has some excellent scholarship opportunities. BE sure your dau reads up on the requirements completes the applications (for the school and scholarship) on time. She should have a balanced list of reaches, matches and safeties, but they should include financial safeties (like alabama or arizona) and shoot for lots of institutional money. Decide once the acceptances and scholarship offers are in.

Thank you @AroundHere and @jym626 - getting a lot of good advice and things to consider here!

D picked Vandy regardless, but we are giving her the difference…well, subject to annual gift limit of course.

If the kid MAY want grad school, it may be wise to try not to expend all savings for the undergrad degree. If kiddo applied to a range of Us where merit aid is likely for student’ stats, there can be a range if options to ponder.

UofAz and AzSU are generous for NMFinalists. USCal can grant up to 1/2 tuition or more merit. There re threads for Us known for good merit aid.

Also, if kiddo doesn’t use all savings going to the U, some may be useful in helping them launch into career or possible 5th year for masters.

She is interested in biomedical or biochemical engineering.

for what career goal??

Are you saying that you have $70 x 4 saved for college?

Is she’s hs '20, you and she have miles to go. She has no test scores yet, probably not the full rigor in classes taken so far. Nor the ECs (depth and breadth.) She’ll need to build her case over the next 2.5 years, for admits. Over that time, you expose her to various options, including state schools and merit money opps. Try to stay away from the dream school notion.

Kids change a lot between now and junior spring, then to fall of senior year. She may discover other engineering interests. Or other interests, entirely.

This is more than a stats race.

Additionally, inquire if your state participates in an undergraduate student exchange program with nearby states, where one can pay 150% of instate tuition instead of out of state tuition when attending such Us under a merit acholarsgip program. If so, it may be worthwhile learning more about them and casually touring some of those Us over br aks, just to have other Us to consider.

from high school in 2020

Your DD is a frosh in high school?

Do you know if she will test that high? she may be an A student, but if she doesn’t have very high test scores ( 99% percentiles), she may not be a contender for those schools. It may be hard to tell as a frosh unless she’s already taken the SAT or ACT and has shown to have high scores.

Anyway, there are schools that may give her huge merit for high test scores and costs will be nearly free, and some that might give enough to get costs down to, say, $80-120k total for four years. Look at Tulane, USC, and SCU.

BTW…schools that are showing $75k per year now, will likely be $85k per year when your child is actually in college.

Many state schools would be a good fit and relatively affordable. And some have merit aid.

Ivies and some other top schools give aid for income above $150k if that is relevant.

A couple of small things. You might want to get used to dropping the “we” and adopting “she” regarding applications :slight_smile:

And Sincerer Love, the gift tax limit is a myth. Yes you have to report any gift amount above $14k, or whatever the limit is this year, but it is not taxed until you reach a lifetime gift limit of something like $5 million.

Once she has scores, in junior year you can look up ABET accredited engineering programs at schools that give some merit or come in much lower than Vandy.

She could still apply to Vandy as a financial reach with the condition of getting enough merit to bring it down enough in price.

It seems that your daughter is a freshman- it’s too early right now for her to decide that she wants a particular school or major ( my opinion). Its also a bit early right now to think she will be a contender for such schools. She may … or she may not. My advice right now is to put this in the back of your mind for the moment and focus on the other stuff- classes, activities, doing what she enjoys, being a kid, etc.

If two years from now you and the guidance counselor conclude that she is a serious applicant for Vanderbilt and similar schools, then have her apply if she wants… if she is willing to do the work ( essays etc) and you are willing to pay the application fees. She ( and you) can research schools prior to the end of junior year where serious merit is an option. Once she applies and gets back all of the decisions… then you can decide if it’s worth it to spend the money.

There is no right or wrong answer. Every family decides what is best in terms of affordability, fit, etc. Vanderbilt is a great school, but plenty of kids who get in don’t go- they attend less expensive schools and they thrive. There are plenty of very smart kids at “lower” schools. And… there is something to be said for being a big fish.

For now… relax… and see how HS unfolds. Right now you don’t really know.

And yes- mom is right again. The cost of college goes up every year.

Others are right! Your D needs to find her passions. They all need to find their own path, and the journey makes them stronger and independent young women and men who make their own college decisions…