How 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.