Don’t Get Stuck!

I recently spoke to families at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and repeatedly heard, “We’re not going to apply to (name your school) because they’re too expensive”.  It is not uncommon for families to focus on the sticker price.  And more often than not, Sticker Shock ensues.  And it’s understandable!

With average tuition for a 4 year private college exceeding $40,000, it is easy to see how sticker shock can come about.  Factor in housing, meal plans and books and supplies and those costs can exceed $55,000!  At those numbers, one should be concerned with total costs!

But one thing many families don’t take into account when calculating cost is something called a discount rate.  The discount rate is the reduction off the published price of tuition and fees due to the awarding of grants and scholarships awarded by these schools.  For example, if a school took in $10,000 in total tuition and mandatory fees but gave out $4,000 in scholarships, their discount rate would be 40%.  

A recent survey conducted of private colleges and universities by the National Association of College and University Business Offices showed that the average discount rate has risen to 45%!  What this means is that 45% of the tuition and fees that these schools charge is going towards awarding scholarships and grants. 

What does this mean for a high school student applying to college?  Well for one, it means, DON’T GET STUCK ON THE STICKER PRICE!

Because at most schools, not every student receives a scholarship, this may mean that for some students, their individual discount rate may be much higher.  Suddenly, a tuition charge of $40,000 may actually be “only” $22,000 if the discount rate is 45%.  Factor in federal student loans which may be another $5,500 and you may be looking at a gap of “only” $16,500.  It is still a large gap but considering we started at $40,000, the gap has been narrowed! 

How can you get a feel for the schools you are looking at?  Well, it can be very difficult to identify a college’s discount rate.  For competitive reasons, that’s not something that is often published.  You can however take advantage of some tools offered to you from the Federal Government.  Each year, colleges and universities have to report a host of data elements as part of a data collection effort called IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System).  This information is made available to the public in a (relatively) easy to read format.  The College Navigator site takes all of this data and breaks it out into various categories.  From percent of applicants enrolled to graduate rates.  In addition, one can also find out how much scholarship and grants were offered to freshmen or the percent of freshmen receiving scholarships.  This information will give you some clarity on the possibility of receiving a scholarship.  If the school website states the average scholarship award is $30,000 but only 20% of incoming students receive a scholarship, well, you can figure the odds might be against you.

There is a lot to this process.  In future posts, we’ll discuss the Net Price Calculator, how to use and what it may mean.

While this may seem confusing, my point is, Don’t NOT apply to a college because the sticker price seems too high.  Sure, it’s good to have a safety school in terms of cost, but you never know what you may receive in scholarship funding.  Good luck!


Take control!

I talk a lot about organization when it comes to the college admission process.  To avoid being overwhelmed I think it’s very important to take control of as much of this process as you can.

One area to do this is through being organized.  You may apply to 5 or 6 schools and they may all have their own requirements. You could quickly be looking at having to track 50 or 60 items through this process.  It can be overwhelming and the last thing you want to happen is not to get admitted because you forgot to send something in!  Take control!

In October, you should:
– start to narrow your list of colleges to approximately five to eight, and review it with your counselor. Get admission requirements and financial aid info from each school’s website. – Visit as many schools as possible.  Sometimes this may not be feasible but you really want to get a feel for the school you may spend the next 4 years at.
–  As I mentioned in previous posts, make a master calendar and note:
Test dates, fees and deadlines
College application due dates
Required financial aid applications and their deadlines
Recommendations, transcripts and other necessary materials
Your high school’s deadlines for application requests, such as your transcript
– Ask for recommendations. Give each person your resume and any other required information for your schools.
– Write application essays and ask teachers, family members and friends, to read first drafts.
– Decide Whether to Apply Early Action, Early Decision or regular decision.  We’ll discuss in future blog posts.
– Ask if your college offers an early estimate of financial aid eligibility.
– Get Financial Aid Info – Go to school websites and start to research
Break this process down into smaller segments.  You can control this process and it WILL be less stressful!


Check, check, check, check it out!

We’ve addressed some of the important items to keep in mind when selecting colleges and universities to apply to.  Once you start to narrow your list of schools, you will want to go to their admission websites and make note of all of the requirements they may require to apply.  You will quickly see that each school may require something slightly different or have different timelines.  You don’t want to mess this process up!

Make a list, check it twice!  You will want to make a list of all of the schools you are interested in applying to and create a checklist for all of their requirements.  The Collegeboard has a great checklist of all of the items you will want on your checklist.

If you’re applying to 5 or 6 schools, you may want to create a spreadsheet listing your schools across the top in columns and the the requirements in the rows.  This way you can check off each item that you have completed.  This will break the process down into a much more manageable process. 

This will hold true during the financial aid process and we’ll discuss it in future blogs!


Getting your ducks in a row, pt 2

In our last blog we discussed some of the important things you want to consider when looking at colleges and universities to apply to.  Let’s continue that with some additional important items.

Programs offered – Do you have an intended major in mind?  Or, are you unsire of what you want to major in and would rather explore classes and your interests?  This is a really important area in the college process.  If you’re not interested in business programs then you don’t want to apply to business schools.  It sounds logical but over the years I have seen students who wanted to pursue degrees that weren’t offered at the school they were attending.  It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to major in two years from now but it’s important to have an understanding of the programs being offered at the schools you are interested in.
Extracurricular – What do you want out of your college experience?  Attend classes, receive and education and earn your degree?  Or do you want to be involved in on campus activities, play in or attend sporting events, be in a fraternity or sorority, etc?  There is no right or wrong answer but it’s an important aspect of finding the right college fit for you.   
Support Services – Do you need additional services?  Schools offer disability services offices but some are more robust than others.  Do you require any special services for your classes or study materials?  Many young cancer fighters we work with through GRACE want to be near large oncology hospitals. These are important items to discuss ahead of time.  
Costs $$$ –  We will discuss more about college affordability in future blogs but this is a very important item when discussing college.  Many people look solely at the “sticker price” of a college when discussing costs. The sticker price we refer to is the published tuition, housing and meals.  It is important to understand that these are the published costs for all students.  They do not take into account the amount of financial aid that is offered to students.  This is often referred to as the discout rate.  For some some schools, their discount rates hover at 40% and above which means for every dollar they charge for tuiton, 40% of it is going to financial aid which means actual costs might be 40% to 50% less.  This is why you shouldn’t solely look at the sticker price.  In future blogs we will discuss how to estimate your out of pocket costs through the use of the Net Price Calculator.
While there are many factors that will impact your college choice, please keep these in mind when picking schools to apply to.  What we never want to see is for someone to attend a college for a year and have to transfer out.  This often leads to having to take more classes and possibly being in school longer, making new friends and starting over. 

Getting your ducks in a row

At this time of year, I am asked often from parents of college seniors what they should be doing to prepare for the college admission process.  For me, this is always a loaded question. 

There are SO MANY ways to answer that and SO MANY questions for me to ask to them.  Are you concerned only with admissions? What schools will your son/daughter be applying to?  How do you plan to afford the college costs?  Will you be applying for financial aid?

When thinking about the college process I always suggest families sit down and make a checklist of all of the items they need to be thinking about when applying to college. What are my educational goals?  What are my educational priorities?  Is available major more important than size or location?  Is cost a main factor?  This can be an overwhelming process.  Over the next few months, I will be providing you with some tips that will make this process much less daunting.

Let’s take a look at some of the priorities that families should be looking at:

 2 year college vs 4 year college –  The first thing families should be discussing is what type of college is going to be the best fit.  Is a 2 year college more appropriate than a 4 year college?  It is not uncommon for students to enroll at community colleges for the first two years of college and then move on to a 4 year institution to finish their degree.  More often than not, it can be a lot less expensive for families.  Students can complete many of their basic general education requirements and continue to strengthen their transcripts.  A con?  Not establishing relationships early on.  For some students who transfer in as Juniors, they some time feel lost and not part of campus or it takes time to adjust to a new environment.
Public vs Private –  For many years, the thinking has been, if you don’t think you can afford college, apply to a state university. They’re a lot less expensive.  Well, the times, they are a changing!  Over the past few years, state budget cuts have resulted in many state universities having to increase tuition at rates much higher than private colleges.  In addition, many private institutions have increased the amount of financial aid they provide to students.  These days, it is not uncommon for a private college to be less expensive (after all financial aid has been awarded) than a state university.  More on costs in later blogs!
Small vs large – Does size matter?  Many students don’t think about this until AFTER they have enrolled at a particular college.  Do you want to be with 15,000, 20,000 or even 30,000 students on a campus or do you want to have more of high school feel and be surrounded by 3,000 or 4,000 students?  I have heard both sides of this from students over the years.  Large campus – “I feel lost on campus”, “It’s too big”  or “I love all that a large campus has to offer”, “It’s like living in a small city.  I love meeting new people all the time”.  Small campus – “I love knowing everybody on campus.”,” I feel like I am part of the institution and can make a difference” or “It’s too small, I feel like I’m in high school again”.  Know what you want and what you feel most comfortable in!
Urban vs rural –   Do you want to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a city or do you prefer a rural or suburban campus?  Is having a campus quad important to you or do you prefer a campus that is spread across city blocks?  Each one will have their own pros and cons that you will want to weigh.
In Part 2, Electric Bugaloo we will talk look into additional areas that are important in this process:
– Programs offered
– Extracurricular
– Support Services 
– Costs $$$