Although college costs continue to skyrocket in the face of our economic woes, proactive – even affluent - families will pay less than “sticker price” because they learned how the financial aid system really works. Here are seven facts that could help you pay “wholesale” for college:
1. Some Colleges Have More to Give Than Others. Although most schools use the same financial aid formulas, they differ significantly in how much they award in grants, scholarships and other financial aid. Example: the older, prestigious colleges – Ivies and other private universities– offer significant amounts of aid thanks to their large endowments. Public universities offer very little financial aid as they rarely have endowment money worth mentioning.
2. High Sticker Price Colleges Can Cost Less Than “Cheaper” State Schools. One year at a state university can run around $20,000-35,000 (tuition, fees, room and board, etc.). A private college can cost more than $55,000. But frequently, the more expensive college is cheaper! How? Private colleges and universities use their endowments to meet 90%, 95% or more of financial need. State colleges meet roughly 50-65%.
3. “Forgotten Middle Class” Families Receive Generous Grants, Scholarships and other Financial Aid. Recently, colleges and universities have publicly courted upper middle class families – regularly awarding five figure sums to parents with six figure incomes. DO NOT pass on filling out the financial aid paperwork if you think you won’t qualify. One study showed that 53% of eligible families did not bother applying – leaving millions on the table.
4. Grades Have Little To Do With Financial Aid Awards. Many parents assume that their child must have good grades to qualify for grants and scholarships. This is inaccurate. Most colleges award a majority of their grants based on financial need, not merit. Merit scholarships comprise less than 2% of the total “pot.” Although it’s fun to talk about merit scholarships around the office water cooler, the big money - more than 98% - is in the need-based financial aid system.
5. Two Families Can Have the Same Amount Saved - But One Will Receive Far More Financial Aid Because of Where They Saved. An examination of the financial aid formulas reveals that some assets count against you more than others. And some don’t count against you at all. In general, money saved in a student’s name will penalize you more than money held in a parent’s name – strange but true. You could be better off shifting assets out of your student’s name, perhaps into an asset class that’s entirely exempt (such as retirement accounts, insurance, some annuities, and some business assets).
6. Graduation Rates Differ – More Than You Realize. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked heavily against getting in and out of college in four years. Take a look at the four-year graduation percentages at your local state university (www.collegeresults.org is a good site). You’ll likely see that about 50% of full-time undergraduate students get out in four years! Why? The answer may surprise you - it’s because kids can’t get classes they need to graduate – not because they’re “slackers”. Private colleges do a better job at getting kids through school in four years – a typical four year rate is 85% or higher at most prestigious private schools.
7. The Financial Aid Office may not be your Best Resource …. Most people don’t understand why you’ve got a better shot of seeing Paris Hilton inducted into MENSA than getting meaningful help from a financial aid office. The reason you won’t is related to the nature of higher educational institutions themselves – they are BUSINESSES. I’ll wait for you to recover…yes, I know that they’re ivory-towered, institutions of higher learning. However, they have bills to pay – six figure salaries to pay to most University Presidents, upgrades to their facilities, high wages to pay to tenured professors. So the university has bills to pay and it maximizes its income which can limit your chances for Free money. That’s why asking an employee of that institution for help may be like calling the IRS and demanding that they reveal all their latest loopholes so you can pay less in taxes.
Murray Miller is a financial educator devoted the college planning space for over a decade. Murray is the President and CEO of the College Resource Center, LLC. You may contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 800-863-9440. For more information, including a schedule of free college workshops, visit www.SmartTrackToolkit.com.
About Smart Track™ Toolkit: The toolkit is a web based service that assists families with everything from admissions and test prep, to student athletics and financial aid. Our intuitive software and on-demand workshops are key components to making sure students find their top choice colleges, and families can afford to send them there.
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