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Inside Colleges: How Will I Afford College?

The biggest source of financial aid is through colleges. Families can save thousands by selecting the right colleges.

Parents worry about how much college will cost and how they will afford college. Other than purchasing a home, college is usually the largest investment a family will make. Hopefully, families have been saving for college from the time their children were small. But with four years of college costing as much as a quarter of a million dollars, family savings are typically not enough. 

A common misconception that parents have is that their financial salvation will come in the form of private scholarships. Private scholarships make up only 6 percent of all scholarships.   

The biggest source of aid is through the colleges. Families can save thousands of dollars by selecting the right colleges. Some parents might jump to the wrong conclusion when reading this. They might think that this means their child needs to attend a college with a low sticker price. Colleges, however, are like airplanes. Different people are paying different amounts for the same service. Surprisingly, private colleges may be less expensive than a public in-state college.  

Students need to select colleges that fit them financially, as well as academically and socially. The junior year of high school is a great time to begin the college selection process. If you are a rising senior, and haven’t considered the following financial questions, try to address them now.  

On the financial side, you need to know: 

  1. How much money has been saved for college?
  2. How much need-based aid do I qualify for?
  3. Which colleges meet a high percent of need?
  4. Which colleges meet the need primarily with grants, instead of loans and work/study?
  5. How much merit aid do I qualify for?
  6. How many years will it take me to graduate? Students will want to check the 4-year, 5-year and 6-year graduation rates at the colleges they are considering. 
  7. How much money is the most I should borrow?
  8. How much money is the most my parents should borrow?

Some families, without the money to pay the college sticker price, ignore these issues and stick their heads in the sand. I don’t recommend that, since the family may run out of money before college is completed or the student/family may be saddled with incredible debt for years to come.

Other families invest significant time to research these issues. Some families hire an independent college admissions professional like me, who understands these issues and the available resources, saving the family money and preventing the family from taking on too much debt.  

What has your experience been? What questions do you have?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Hank July 26, 2012 at 01:03 AM
One of my guys teaches college and one just graduated. I strongly suggest that anyone planning on visiting colleges to go to either Princeton or Yale and take the tours. These are the top colleges in the country. Once you take the tour and listen to the questions from parents, you will be able to compare your other choices with the best. Otherwise how will you know if a college is good? Also this is the Bible for searching for colleges: http://www.studentsreview.com/ Don't fall for adding the word "only" and "$25,000" per year SUNY schools especially Binghamton and Geneseo are almost the same price as going to a NJ college and they are highly rated 6 month's after you stop going to school the banks want you to start paying back each year is another separate loan,so in 4 years you could easily get 6 or 7 bills every month good luck
Rana Slosberg July 26, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Your comments bring up a lot of interesting points above and beyond financial aid. I agree with you strongly that parents need to reflect on how much they and their student will need to pay back each month when the loans come due and whether they realistically can afford that. I generally don't consider colleges good or bad. I consider them good or bad for a particular student. I think it's important for students to be asking questions on the tours. They are the ones who will be attending college. Too often mom or dad, and not the student, is asking the questions. Often the questions people ask on tour reflect a lack of preparation. For example, people ask questions like how many students attend the college. This shows a lack of research before visiting. Students should think about what they want to find out on tour that they haven't/can't easily find out elsewhere. There are all different kinds of "bibles" of college information. Ones that provide objective data (e.g., facts and figures) and ones that provide subjective data (e.g., opinions of particular students). Some combination of the information, as compared to the students academic, social, and financial wants/needs, along with the student's "gut" feel on their visit determine where students actually go. Too often I find that students and their parents haven't spent sufficient time deciding their top needs and wants before building a college list.
Hank July 26, 2012 at 03:34 PM
I used the students review because it reviews majors too. Now there are a lot of disgruntled students with an axe to grind but many times you will see something like "not enough full time professors" or" too many adjuncts" that is a question you want to ask when you tour. The parent has to press the student as to why they are picking a major and why they are picking a school. If you are a business major you go to a school known for business etc not because it's in the mountains and you like to ski. Those days are over. My pet peeve: If you are going to Bergen Community stop putting your head down and saying "just Bergen" It is a really smart$$$ move to get your NJ required courses there and moving to a 4 year college.
Hank July 26, 2012 at 07:47 PM
I don't want to take over your blog but to anyone searching colleges you need to find out: Crime rate of the city Crime statistics for the school Explanation of how campus security works How is under age drinking addressed by the school How is drug use addressed by the school How many classes taught by full time professors? How many by adjuncts?. Do the adjuncts have a degree in the subject they are teaching? To the dept you wish to major in: What percentage of students graduate on time in your major? (you don't want to be paying for 5 years)
Rana Slosberg July 26, 2012 at 08:53 PM
If you are looking for student reviews, the three sites I like best: http://collegeprowler.com http://unigo.com http://cappex.com. No matter what 2-year or 4-year college a student goes to, they should do their best to get the most out of their college experience.
Rana Slosberg July 26, 2012 at 08:59 PM
These are a few of the many questions a student may want to find out about colleges they are considering. Each student and their family need to identify what is most important to them. I especially like "A Pocket Guide To Choosing a College" prepared by the National Survey of Student Engagement which can be found on http://nsse.iub.edu/pdf/NSSE_PocketGuide.pdf
Claire July 26, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Great advice ... keep it coming! thanks
Mahwah Resident July 26, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Thank you Hank for all the college advice. I am going to take my son (who is going to be a Junior) and head to Princeton first. I hope your comments stay up because I keep referring back to them.
Hank July 26, 2012 at 11:02 PM
what's interesting about the Princeton tour is they treat you like you are really going to go to Princeton . My son completely changed his academic plans after the tour it's very inspirational.
Hank July 27, 2012 at 11:28 AM
Rutgers around $25,000 per year or $100,000. You may knock that down a little it's still a lot of money. 6 months after graduation your child has to come up with $500 or so per month.....forever If you co signed the loan......you start paying if they can't Some of my son's friends are into Sallie Mae for over $1,000 per month....forever The private loan companies make a killing on penalties etc. It can also ruin the co-signers credit
Rana Slosberg July 27, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Claire - Glad this post has been helpful. If you would like to subscribe to my free college planning newsletter, just text SCS to 42828 or email me at rana@slosbergcollegesolutions.com
Rana Slosberg July 27, 2012 at 05:07 PM
That's why families need to think long and hard about how much money they should borrow. Families can use the Loan Calculator on http://www.finaid.org/calculators/loanpayments.phtml to estimate the size of their monthly loan payments and the annual salary required to manage the loans without too much financial difficulty.

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