What You Need to Know about Paying for College

Parents need to speak honestly about how much college savings – if any – that they have, as well as how much they are willing to pay for college costs through loans.

Financial Situation

There are many uncertainties in the financial aid process, and you should not let fears about college costs prevent you from applying to a school that fits you very well. In some cases, pricey private schools can actually offer more grants and scholarships than less expensive state universities.

By the same token, it makes no sense to go to a college that expects your family to contribute $25,000 per year when the money just isn’t there.

College Fund

If you are concerned about your family’s ability to afford school, it is a good idea to apply to two or three reasonably priced colleges to which you have a strong chance of admission.

You never know. An expensive private school may offer a generous financial aid package, making it affordable for your family. But it is a good idea to have some lower-priced school in your list of options as well.

Financial Need

Will your ability to pay for college impact your chances of getting in?

It depends.

At public universities, the ability to pay does not generally factor into admissions decisions.

At private schools, however, it can be a different story. A tiny number of private colleges practice a “need-blind” admissions process. This means that they accept students based solely on their qualifications. Moreover, these colleges promise to pay the full financial need of all of their students.

As you might imagine, very few schools can afford to do this. In addition, the recent recession has also forced some schools to drop their need-blind policies.

Help from School

Other private colleges and universities practice what is called a “need-aware” admissions policy. This means that they have enough financial resources to pay for many – but not all – admitted students. These colleges will generally try to meet the financial need of students who have the strongest applications. At the same time, it is possible that a school that is need aware may give an admissions advantage to a student who can pay the entire bill.

At the same time, it is possible that a school that is need aware may give an admissions advantage to a student who can pay the entire bill.

Other Options

If cost is playing a significant role in your college choice, it is essential that you learn about the financial aid policies of all of the schools to which you are applying. This information is available in the research guides: the College Board’s College Handbook and Peterson’s Four-Year Colleges.

Also, there are actually a handful of colleges that are absolutely free.

These “tuition-free” universities come in different forms; some are small liberal arts colleges, while others provide all instruction online. Some do not charge for tuition, while others also provide free room and board. A few of these colleges are ultra competitive, accepting around 1% of applicants. Other schools require students to participate in community service projects to offset their tuition costs.