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A listing of helpful resources for your college search

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Know Your College Search Vocabulary

For parents just starting the college search, there are certain college search vocabulary words you need to understand.  Today I want to lay a few of these out and provide you with resources to check out for more information.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – This is how much a college will expect you to pay for your student’s education.  It varies by college.  There is also a federal formula for assessing the EFC through the FAFSA, the next term explained below.

FAFSA – This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  Most colleges use FAFSA to assess EFC and dole out financial aid.  You must file the FAFSA to be eligible for federal student loans.  You have to re-file every year that your student is in college and the FAFSA application opens on January 1 of each year.  When you want to file, make sure you are on the real government FAFSA site.  There are a lot of services that pretend to be the site and then charge you to submit your application to the government.

FAFSA4caster – A FAFSA estimator provided by the government that you can use when your student is in high school to get an idea of what the FAFSA will calculate as your EFC.

Net Price Calculator – A tool that college websites provide for you to estimate the financial aid they will offer your student.  Sometimes these also calculate merit aid (defined below).  The net price calculator is extremely valuable to help you know how much a college will actually cost.  You can usually find the net price calculator in the Admissions or Financial Aid section of a college website.

529 Plan – Currently, this is one of the best ways to save for college.  Plan earnings grow tax free and many states offer state tax breaks for savers.  The money withdrawn must be used for qualified educational expenses to avoid taxes.  The 529 plan has been in the news a lot recently because President Obama is proposing taxing 529 plan earnings as student income.  This may change the desirability of this college savings medium.

Merit Aid – “Free money” that a college offers your student based on merit and not financial need.  This is usually related to a student’s GPA, ACT/SAT score, and possibly other things like class rank, leadership ability, or community service.

Talent Scholarships – Some schools offer free money for talents such as music, art, theater and dance.  These scholarships usually require an audition or a portfolio submission.  Check the school websites for details.

Athletic Scholarships – Most people know that colleges may offer scholarships to attract athletes, but most people don’t know that the majority of these are not full-ride scholarships and only specific types of colleges can offer athletic scholarships.  The NCSA website is a great place to go for all the details.

College Search Spreadsheet – A way to keep track of all the information on all the schools your student is or may be interested in.  I have a free template for you to download.

There are many more college search vocabulary words you will run into as you start preparing for your kid’s college search.  I encourage you to use all the websites that are available to help you in the college search process to learn more about all of these terms.  My Top 10 College Search Information Websites is a great place to start finding websites that will be invaluable in the college search process.

Find Scholarships for High ACT Scores

1195437419219858921johnny_automatic_bag_of_money.svg.medIf your child took the ACT test and scored well, you may wonder, is that worth any extra money for college?  Yes, it certainly can be!  So how do you find scholarships for high ACT scores?  Well, it can be very time consuming.  I have some tips below on where to look.

What are high ACT scores?  This really varies from college to college.  Some schools will offer merit scholarships for scores in the low to mid-20s.  Others won’t offer merit money until scores reach the high-20s or into the 30s.  Generally speaking, the higher the score, the greater the scholarship.

How to Find Scholarships for High ACT Scores

  1. College WebsitesThe majority of merit scholarships for high ACT scores are offered by the colleges themselves.  Look at the websites for colleges your child is interested in.  Usually the Scholarships or Financial Aid pages/sections of the college website  will provide details on merit scholarships offered and the associated criteria.  If your child hasn’t narrowed down to a list of schools, or if you want to see everything that’s out there, this can be quite time consuming and you may miss out on some great merit scholarships that you didn’t know were out there.
  2. Full Scholarship List – This is my listing of major merit scholarships offered by schools around the country.  By major, I mean these scholarships cover 75% of the price of tuition or greater.  I have spent time compiling this information so that you don’t have to.  There are 170 scholarships on the list based on a minimum ACT score.  These are the “gold standard” for merit scholarships, but there are tons of other smaller scholarships for high ACT scores offered at schools around the country.  They are just going to be a little harder to find.
  3. – You can use to search for schools offering scholarships by school name or by state.  Your student can also enter a student profile to be matched with scholarships based on his/her strengths.
  4. College Confidential BoardsCollege Confidential has several message boards that go through automatic and competitive merit scholarships.  Most of these boards focus on full-ride and full-tuition scholarships.  I used the best of these boards when I first put together the Full Scholarship List.  I find the boards hard to use for a comprehensive scholarship search because you have to find the most up-to-date listings and there is no way to do a search or filter for what you want to focus on.  You also have to weed through all the extra posts from people who like to comment on message boards.
  5. Other Websites – If you do a web search for “scholarships for high ACT scores,” you will see a variety of other sites offering some type of listing.  I have checked out most of these.  Some focus on guaranteed scholarships, meaning that if your student meets the specified criteria, he/she will automatically receive the scholarship.  None of these lists are comprehensive of all scholarships out there, but if you look at several, you may be able to develop a list of other schools to check out.  I recommend going directly to the school websites to verify that the scholarships are still offered and to get all the details.

The bottom line is that there are lots of scholarships for high ACT scores out there that will help you save money on college.  You just need to look for them.

My Top 10 College Search Information Websites – Updated for 2015

  1. College Data - This site has become my favorite place for doing college search research.  It has great data to help with your college search. There is a very unique college search tool and College Chances Calculator.  The college search tool allows you to get data on average student debt, percentage of students receiving merit awards, freshman satisfaction rate, and more.  The College Chances Calculator will compare class rank, GPA, test scores (ACT/SAT), number of honors courses, community service hours and more against the data pool of accepted applicants to gauge your chance of being admitted.  There are many other helpful features to make College Data a “one stop shop” to guide you and your college-bound student through the college search and college admission processes.
  2. Niche (formerly College Prowler) – This site has a criteria-based college search feature, college “grades” by current students and actual current student reviews.  There is also scholarship information and a college chances calculator basing your grades and test scores against what the site has compiled for comparison data (supposedly from actual admitted students).  What I really like about this site is the open and honest feedback provided by current students.  It gives you a whole different perspective of the school than you get from a brochure, website or campus visit.  When you register for this site, you will receive emails when information you are interested in is updated.
  3. Cappex – This is a great multi-purpose site.  You create a student profile and then you can search for schools, save schools to your list, search for scholarships, plan campus visits, read student reviews and gauge your chances at getting into a school.  The scholarship search has a nice feature that tells you how much competition you will have if you apply for the scholarship.
  4. Fastweb - This site makes it easy to find and track outside scholarships.  You can mark the ones you do and don’t want to apply to and track the due dates.  When you register for this site, you will receive emails when new scholarships are available.  The site has also expanded to include a college search function, financial aid advice and career advice.
  5. College Board – Big Future – Site developed by The College Board to provide lots of information for students and parents on the college choice process.  Has a college search feature to narrow down potential colleges to consider based on several criteria like location, size, selectivity, etc.
  6. College Navigator  – This is a federal government site through the National Center for Education Statistics.  It houses the College Navigator search tool.  This tool allows you to search for colleges meeting a good variety of search criteria.  You can also get to the Net Price Calculator Center that allows you to link to the net price calculator for almost any college in the country.
  7. National Association for College Admission Counseling – Students and Parents - This is the site of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  It has a special section for Students and Parents with a search tool and a lot of good advice on things like paying for college, applying to college, college preparation and succeeding in college.  You can find some really good information about college ranking methodologies used by the various groups that rank colleges.
  8. The College Solution - This is a terrific blog site from a highly respected college information commentator and author named Lynn O’Shaughnessy.  She has a ton of valuable content on her site.  It isn’t a college search site, but it is a site to go to if you want in-depth information about a particular college search topic.  You can go to the Blog tab and drill down to topics and sub-topics.  Lynn gives you the “scoop” on topics and backs up her information with real examples and authorities.
  9. DIY College Rankings – This site offers great college search tools and helpful blog posts.  Michelle Kretzschmar, the site’s author, is very data focused and offers an Excel spreadsheet tool to narrow down college options and create your own custom college search spreadsheets.  Michelle’s tool is based on the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System which is the basis for the College Navigator website.  She also offers an online class on how to use her spreadsheet tool most effectively.  I love Michelle’s 50-50 College Listing system of narrowing down colleges to consider.
  10. US News – Best Colleges – US News is the “old standby” of college rankings.  I know their ranking methodology is somewhat controversial, but I like to use their lists anyway.  You get a broad snapshot of information for each school.  You need to take the rankings with a grain of salt because there are plenty of good colleges that aren’t in the top 100 on the national lists.  It is a great site to use in the early stages of the college search when you want to develop a college search spreadsheet.  You will find most, if not all, of the data you want to track about a school right on the US News site.  You can get even more information about each school, save a list and do comparisons if you sign up for the US News College Compass.  The price is $24.95 for a year of access.  The new rankings come out around the second week in September every year.

Honorable Mention College Search Information Websites

These are sites that don’t currently make my top 10 college search information websites, but do have some useful features and are worth checking out if you have additional time to go exploring.

  • College Confidential – College Confidential has lots of helpful features.  There is a college search feature that has the widest variety of search criteria that I have seen.  Each college has a discussion forum and a place where people can rate the school based on a college visit.  This can be helpful information in either making your decision to visit or not visit a school or to validate that others thought the same as you did about a school. There are articles related to college admissions, paying for college, and other college related topics.  A word of caution – the most popular feature on College Confidential is the discussion boards.  You have to take all the information out there with a “grain of salt.”  It is full of people with strong personal opinions.  As with other discussion boards out on the web, there are lots of people with way to much free time on their hands that insist on picking on and insulting each other back and forth on these discussion boards.  This clouds the ability to find helpful information.  The boards do have pretty strong moderation, but in my opinion, they let people get too off track of the intent of the original discussion.
  • ApplyMap – This is a fairly new, but promising, college search site.  They claim to have better college data and more precise predictions for their college chances calculator.  The site is very user-friendly.  I like their search, but I find it a bit limiting in choosing what is important to you in a school.  There is no ability to narrow down schools by majors/programs offered.  It is definitely worth checking out.

January College Search Tips

happy-new-year-mdHappy New Year!  Here at My Kid’s College Choice, I am committed to starting the new year off with a bang!  I changed up the website design on January 1 and I am using my spare time this month to update the Full Scholarship List.

Today, I have some tips for where you should be in the college search in January, depending on where your child is in high school:

January College Search Tips for High School Seniors

  1. File the FAFSA – There are many reasons to file, even if you don’t think you will receive any financial aid.  I have posts that will help you determine if you will be eligible for financial aid and explain some reasons to file the FAFSA.  I recommend estimating your 2014 federal income tax liability and filing early.
  2. Finish College Applications – Many students will have all their applications in before the new year and will be able to sit back and wait for acceptance letters.  For those who are not finished, I recommend getting their remaining applications in ASAP.
  3. Final College Visits – Especially for students who already have multiple acceptance letters in hand, start planning college visits to help make the final college choice.
  4. Admission Interviews – If your student has applied to any schools that offer or require admission interviews, get those scheduled now.  Even if the interview is optional, it will show a greater level of “demonstrated interest.”
  5. Think Scholarships – Once the college application process is complete, it’s time for students to turn their attention to scholarship applications.  Local scholarships and major merit scholarships offered directly through the colleges are your best bet.  Check with the high school counseling office for local scholarships available in your area.  Check the college websites for any merit scholarships that require students to fill out a separate application (some of these scholarships use the admissions application).

January College Search Tips for High School Juniors

  1. Think ACT/SAT – Many Juniors will have taken at least one ACT or SAT test already.  Now is the time to work on improving scores.  Check out the available test prep options and help your student plan when to take the test again.
  2. College Visits – Spring semester of Junior year should be the big push for college visits.  January is a great time to get these scheduled.  Spring Break can be a great time to get a couple visits in as many colleges will be in session during your high school student’s break.  Many colleges offer special visit programs on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day.
  3. Research Affordability – As a parent, now is a great time to research college affordability if you haven’t done that already.  Check out the posts in my Paying for College category for tips.  Get an idea of what you will have to pay for college using the FAFSA forecaster.

January College Search Tips for High School Sophomores

What?  You want us to think about the college search already?  Yes, Sophomore year is a good year to get started!  The focus Sophomore year should be on PREPARATION.

  1. Academic Preparation – Focus on top grades for second semester and signing up for the right classes for Junior year.
  2. Activity Preparation – Focus on what will look good for college admissions:  Not too many activities, in-depth participation, working towards leadership positions, help your child figure out and demonstrate his/her passions.
  3. Test Preparation – Start preparing for PSAT (taken October of Junior year) and ACT/SAT.
  4. College Visits – Spring of Sophomore year is a good time to do a first college visit to get your student thinking about what college is like.

Help your college-bound student start the new year off right with strong preparation for college.

Help, We Don’t Have Enough Money for College!

MoneyHow many of us parents get a rude awakening about college costs when our oldest child is already in high school?  I had no idea how much the price of tuition had increased in the last 30 years!  So we ring our hands and pour over our budgets wondering how we are going to save up for four years of college in the two or three years we have left before that first tuition payment is due.  We look at the college brochures and see the variation in sticker prices between in-state public schools, out-of-state public schools and private colleges and wonder if we are going to have to say, “Sorry, we can only afford to send you to a state school.”  If we are lucky, our state has some great in-state public options and our children are happy to look at those!  drastically limit the college search to schools with the most affordable sticker prices.

Hopefully, we read or hear the statement that goes something like this – The college sticker price is rarely what you will actually pay out of pocket!

Hearing that statement should provide some relief and ease the worry that you don’t have enough money for college, but don’t stop there.  It’s time to dig into all the options that decrease the college sticker price and figure out what the most likely option will be for your family situation.

Ways to Decrease the College Sticker Price:

  1. Full Ride Merit Scholarships – If our child is in the top 10-20% of his/her high school class, we’d all like to think that he or she will get full ride merit scholarships.  To be realistic, the likelihood of that is very low and these scholarships are very competitive.  However, they are worth looking into.  Check out my Full Scholarship List for details on over 400 different full ride merit scholarships and full tuition merit scholarships.  These are primarily based on ACT/SAT score and GPA or National Merit status.
  2. Smaller Merit Scholarships – Smaller merit scholarships will be easier to come by for top students than full ride merit scholarships.  Some diligent online research should yield you a wide variety of public and private schools that offer merit scholarships of up to 1/2 off tuition.  I have found that students with ACT scores in the high 20s and up and GPAs over 3.5 tend to get the best of these smaller merit scholarships.
  3. Need-Based Aid – There is plenty of need-based aid out there for families who are determined to “need it” by the federal government and the colleges themselves.  The best kind of need-based aid is the “free” aid, in the form of scholarships and grants, that you do not have to pay back.  Of course, the determination of “need” can seem to be pretty limited.  You may know you need help paying for college, but the FAFSA calculation may not agree!
  4. Athletic Scholarships – Keep in mind that these are very limited and only available at specific types of schools.  See 7 Things You Need to Know About Sports Scholarships for a dose of reality.
  5. Talent Scholarships – Does your child have exceptional ability in music, art or theater?  This may be a great opportunity for a scholarship.  Most schools offering talent scholarships require the student to major in that area.  Again, extensive online research may be needed to find matching schools.
  6. Outside Scholarships – These are the ones offered through local organizations and at the national level through websites like fastweb and cappex.  Keep in mind that local scholarships are much easier to win.  Check with your school’s counseling office to see if they maintain a list of local scholarships.

If you find yourself at the point of panic over not having enough money to pay for college, merit scholarships and/or need-based aid are your best bets.  Check out Net Price Calculators on the college websites to estimate how much you can cut the sticker price.


Can Your Child Graduate College in 4 Years?

College GraduationThis week, one of my favorite college-subject authors, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, wrote an article on Why Your Child Won’t Graduate From College on Time.  This got me thinking about the factors that increase your child’s chances of being able to graduate college in 4 years.

How To Increase the Odds that Your Child Will Graduate College in 4 Years:

  1. Start with College Credits – AP classes and dual-credit classes taken in high school will help your child walk into college with a nice base of college credits.  Of course with AP classes, your child has to meet his/her chosen college’s threshold for granting credit.  This varies from school to school so make sure you research this ahead of time.  I wrote more about this in my post, Earning College Credits in High School.
  2. Have a Solid Plan – This can be tricky if your child isn’t sure what he or she wants to major in.  For these students, make sure that Freshman year is spent getting general requirements out of the way, but also encourage them to dip their toes into any subject areas that might be candidates for majors.  These two things can usually be accomplished at the same time by carefully selecting courses that meet general requirements.  Most schools don’t require students to select a major until the end of sophomore year, but if no classes that are required for that major are taken until Junior year, it may be a struggle to get all classes needed within 4 semesters of college.  At that point, summer classes and a possible extra semester of college may be needed.
  3. Effective Advising – This one is also tricky because students don’t have much control over who is assigned as their advisor.  My oldest daughter started out in the “exploratory” program for students who haven’t selected a major.  Her advisor was terrible and provided no guidance to help her figure out her major.  My advice to her was to go ahead and select a major, even if she was only 50% sure that was what she wanted to study.  At least it got her in a better position for guidance.  Poor advising was one of the top factors cited in Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s article for students not being able to graduate college in 4 years.  If you suspect this is a problem for your student, there are two things I recommend.  First, encourage him or her to take the lead in the process, be more assertive and ask a lot of questions.  Students need to own the process and not just sit back and expect the advisor to tell them what to do.  Second, sit down with your student with the course catalog and help them map out what should be taken each semester in order to graduate college in 4 years.  You won’t know when classes will be offered, but you can map out the basics.
  4. Choose a Major and Stick With It – For some students, this is going to be the hardest thing.  You don’t want your student to stick with a major that he or she has lost interest in, but changing a major after sophomore year can derail the plan to graduate college in 4 years.
  5. Strong Course Load – Some students might love the idea of only taking 12 credits per semester, which typically equates to four classes.  Encourage your child to take at least five classes every semester.  This should equate to 15 credits or more.  Most students can handle this load even with a part-time job and extracurricular activities.

Of course there isn’t really a guarantee your child will graduate college in 4 years, although some colleges do advertise a four-year graduation guarantee.  If your student is looking at one of these schools, be sure to read the requirements of how the school promises to accomplish this.  There may not be much flexibility.  In general, the more you can do up front to prepare a four-year plan, the better the chances that you will not be paying for an unexpected extra year of college.

Taking the First ACT/SAT

Standardized TestMy high school junior daughter takes the ACT for the first time in December.  She hasn’t done any test prep and hasn’t taken any practice tests.  This is not the way I would prefer to go about it, but given that we are two weeks out and she hasn’t wanted to prepare, I don’t think it’s going to happen!

Taking the first ACT/SAT is an important step for most college bound students.  Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Baseline – Use the first ACT/SAT scores as a baseline.  Are the scores “good enough” for what your student wants to achieve?  Given that there is usually room for improvement, this baseline will help you work with your student to set a goal of what he or she would like to achieve on the next test.
  2. Test Pacing – Taking the first real test will help your student determine pacing.  Maybe he or she spent too long on a section and had to rush through others.  Help him/her think about what to do different the next time.
  3. Test Prep – Are there specific areas of the test where scores need to be improved or is overall improvement needed?  Think about the amount of test prep needed before the next test and plan accordingly.  For those taking the ACT, I have a spreadsheet of different ACT test prep options that will help when you are considering what kind of prep you are willing to consider.
  4. College Search List – Having the first ACT/SAT scores will help your student narrow down schools by admissions standards.  This is where you can really start refining the college search list.  Look for schools that would be matches or reaches based on those first ACT/SAT scores.  It is reasonable to improve your scores by 10-15%, but probably not by more than 25%.  This is especially important if you are counting on significant merit aid to afford college.
  5. Merit-Based Aid – The best merit-based aid opportunities are usually found at schools where your student’s GPA and ACT/SAT scores would put him or her in the top 25% of applicants.  Use the first ACT/SAT scores to determine where this will be possible.  Also, if a school includes merit-based aid on their Net Price Calculator, you can plug in the ACT/SAT scores to estimate what the school might offer.

I am looking forward to my daughter getting this first ACT test out of the way.  I am hoping it will give us the opportunity to encourage her to study and set a goal for the next time around.

The Appeal of Large Public Universities – Part 2

IMG_14532Opportunity – That’s one thing that large public universities can offer.

Last week, I wrote about the “cost” appeal of large public universities.  This week, I am focusing on the tremendous opportunities they can provide.

Opportunities Offered by Large Public Universities

  1. Majors/fields of study
  2. Student Organizations
  3. Research Opportunities
  4. Sports
  5. Cultural Diversity

University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign (UIUC), which I recently visited with my middle daughter, offers over 150 majors.  That seems insane when compared with colleges with 5,000 or fewer students that typically offer less than 100 majors.  For the student who isn’t sure what to study, this can be a definite plus – more to choose from, more to try out, and definitely less risk of deciding you want to study something that isn’t even offered at your school.  There are over 1,000 registered student organizations to participate in.  At small schools, there are usually less than 100 student organizations.

Opportunities go beyond just majors and student organizations.  At many large public universities, research is a major focus.  Undergraduates can find great opportunities to get involved in fascinating research studies, both as participants and as assistants.

Don’t forget about the sports.  In addition to massive football stadiums and basketball arenas filled with screaming fans (think Big Ten or other major conference), large public universities offer a wide variety of intramural and club sports that any students can get involved in.  Most also offer state-of-the-art workout facilities.

Cultural diversity is also prevalent at large public universities.  Back to my UIUC example – it is the #3 university in the United States for international students.  It attracts students from all over the world.

Think of a large public university as a microcosm representing a large metropolitan area.  These campuses really are like their own cities offering everything a student would need either right on campus or close by, including restaurant and shopping options.  A student population of 20,000 or more attracts many more businesses in the surrounding area than a student population of 5,000 or fewer.

Are large public universities for everyone?  Of course not.  Some students will be much more comfortable in a smaller environment.  My advice to parents is just don’t assume that your child won’t be interested in one.  You might be surprised.  The first wave of college visits should include visiting campuses of all different sizes to help your student narrow down what feels most comfortable to him or her.  Find out if size is going to be a deciding factor or if your student is fine with schools of all different sizes.

The cost/value and opportunity at large public universities may be appealing enough to keep them on your student’s college list.



The Appeal of Large Public Universities – Part One

Football GameBack when I was looking at colleges, I never would have considered any large public universities.  I grew up in Wisconsin, where the Wisconsin Badgers are king, had been around the campus of UW-Madison several times, and my mother spoke very highly of her alma mater.  But I didn’t even consider it.  I didn’t want to be a face in the crowd.  I was convinced that small to medium-sized private colleges were the only ones for me.

When I started the college search with my oldest daughter and saw how well regarded both UW-Madison and our home-state flagship University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign (UIUC) were, I started reconsidering large public universities.  However, there was no selling my oldest daughter on even visiting UIUC – not from me,  her teachers, or her friends.  Like me, she was looking for a small to medium-sized private college.

The first thing I find potentially appealing about large public universities is the cost.  In many cases, the only appealing cost option will be your in-state options.  Unless, of course, your state has good reciprocity agreements with other states.  This is demonstrated in my example below.

My middle daughter has been a Badger fan ever since she was little.  She has often talked about going to UW-Madison.  When I dug into the cost difference between UW-Madison and UIUC, I said, “No way.  You are going to have to learn to like the Illini.”  Illinois does not have a true reciprocity program with another state for students to go out of state at reduced tuition.  There are some agreements with smaller Wisconsin campuses for reduced out-of-state tuition, but nothing like Minnesota and Wisconsin’s reciprocity agreement.  Minnesota students can attend UW-Madison at 25% above the in-state tuition cost.  Illinois students (and other non-residents) pay 2.5 times the in-state tuition rate!

UW-Madison Base Yearly Tuition Plus Room & Board:

  • WI Resident – $19,010
  • MN Resident – $21,796
  • Other State Residents – $35,260

U of I Urbana Champaign Base Yearly Tuition Plus Room & Board:

  • Illinois Resident – $26,450
  • Other State Residents – $41,076

So this tells me that for my daughter to be a Badger, I’d have to be prepared to fork out an additional $9,000 per year, $36,000 total assuming she graduates in four years.  Would it be worth it?  I’d have to say, No Way.  The schools are neck and neck in most college rankings, including US News and Forbes.  Money Magazine ranks UIUC a slightly better value for your money.

Do I think it is unfair that as a resident of Illinois, I pay $7,400 more per year for my child to attend my state flagship school than if I was a Wisconsin state resident paying for the Wisconsin state flagship university?  Of course I do, but I am told I pay less in state tax and property tax so I guess it all evens out.

Here’s where the value proposition really comes in.  The sticker price of UIUC is less than or equal to the net price I would pay at many private colleges IF my child gets a major merit scholarship.  And Illinois is a high-priced school.  Many states have much lower in-state costs that make the large public option more appealing than private college options.

As a parent, can I count on my child receiving a large merit scholarship at a private college?  Well, no, not really.  I can work with my child to narrow down the college list to schools that offer merit scholarships that would put us in the right net price range, but unless the school offers guaranteed merit amounts based on GPA and ACT scores, it’s out of my hands.  It depends on how well she sells herself and what her competition looks like.

To me, the best thing about the cost of the in-state public university is, it’s a sure thing.  I don’t need to hope for merit scholarships, although if they offer some, that’s great.  I basically know the maximum I am going to pay up front.  Also, in the case of Illinois, and many other states, the tuition amount is guaranteed not to increase for four years of continuous enrollment.  Compare this to my oldest daughter’s private college where rates go up approximately 5% per year with no corresponding increase in merit aid!

So cost can be a major appeal of large public universities.  Next week, in part two, I will focus on why the size of large public universities can be appealing.

Are You Too Wealthy for Financial Aid?

1195437419219858921johnny_automatic_bag_of_money.svg.medHow do you know if you are too wealthy for financial aid?  The answer is, there’s no easy answer!  Generally speaking, most schools will not give need-based financial aid to families making $150,000 or more per year, but there are exceptions.  Princeton University, for example, is known to be the most generous ivy league school, is on the list of schools that meet 100% of an applicants need, and may give a small amount of aid even to families making over $200,000.

When information like this is shared, it is always based on having one child in college.  One important thing to keep in mind:  The more dependent children you have in college at the same time, the more financial aid you may qualify for.

Strictly speaking, if you have two kids in college at the same time and your expected family contribution for one child in college is around say $40,000, your expected contribution for each of the two kids will be around $20,000.  However, you may find that this doesn’t come into play at a school unless you make under a certain income amount that the school considers to be low enough for need-based aid.

In a prior post, Determining Your Eligibility for Need-Based Financial Aid, I talked about other variables besides the number of kids in college that go into financial aid determination and how to calculate your eligibility.  Make sure you estimate your general eligibility for financial aid through the FAFSA4caster and make sure you estimate your school-specific eligibility through Net Price Calculators.  Don’t just assume you’re too wealthy for financial aid across the board.

If you find that your family is unlikely to receive any need-based financial aid based on these calculations, there are other ways to save money on your student’s college education.  In another prior post, How High-Income Families Can Save Money on College, I listed some tips.

One other thing to note: Just because the net price calculator for a school doesn’t show any need-based aid does not mean that you definitely won’t receive any.  Sometimes, a school that admits your student will come up with a small amount of aid as an extra way to attract him or her to attend.  It may not be much, but every little bit helps!