Many families make too much money to qualify for financial aid, yet find themselves unable to manage college bills that now routinely reach $70,000 per year per student. Loading up on student loans is not a good way to deal with this challenge. A better way is to pay less. How do you do that?
- Focus on the projected cost to attend a college for a full four years. Four years at a $15,000/yr State University will run you $60,000 versus a whopping $280,000 for a school that costs $70,000/yr, as many now do.
- Seek out schools that offer merit aid. Merit aid is not based on financial need. It is essentially a discount off sticker price offered to a student to entice the student to attend a school. Not all schools offer merit aid but many do. It is not uncommon for merit aid awards to range from $80,000 – $120,000 over four years. To maximize your chances for merit aid, focus on schools where the student’s academic credentials are in the top 25 percent of the school’s typical admitted freshman class.
- Many colleges will match merit awards offered by competing schools. If one school offers a strong merit award, use it as leverage to seek higher awards from other schools. This only works for schools that offer merit awards. Don’t be sheepish about this. The student is already accepted at this point. Asking for more merit money won’t revoke their acceptance. If they offered you any merit aid, the college wants your student. Find out how badly the student is wanted.
- Talk about cost boundaries early in the process. If your family is not willing or able to pay $70,000/yr for college, make sure the student knows this early in the process. If a family has a maximum four year budget of $200,000, make sure the student knows this by their sophomore year of high school, before they get their heart set on a more expensive school.
- Don’t apply Early Decision to a school that offers merit aid. Merit aid is used as an incentive to get an accepted student to enroll. If a student applies early decision, they are compelled to attend at sticker price. Merit aid is unlikely to be offered.