Finding the Best Deals on Colleges

Published by Wendy Nelson on

For three mornings this week, I spoke to groups of parents and students at the local high school about the college search process.  When I spoke to high school juniors and their parents, I stressed that there are several ways to find great deals on colleges.  Junior year is the key time to narrow down college options.  If cost is a consideration in your college search process, it will be important to find schools that will be affordable.Calculator

Here are some tips for finding the best deals on colleges:

  1. Look for schools with great merit scholarships – There are many colleges that offer large merit scholarships to attract great students.  These can range from a few thousand dollars up to full tuition, room and board.  Some merit scholarships are automatic and others require competing against other applicants.  Usually private colleges offer larger merit scholarships than public colleges to be competitive on tuition price.  Also, less selective schools tend to offer better merit scholarships than more selective schools in order to appeal to the top students.
  2. Take advantage of low in-state tuition – Public tuition is usually lower than private tuition to begin with, but the lowest tuition can be found at non-flagship state schools.  Every state has at least one flagship school – the one with the large reputation and the biggest student body.  The lesser-known state campuses tend to have fewer students, they cost less, and may even offer merit scholarships to attract students.
  3. Take advantage of local community colleges – Community colleges provide a low-cost option to complete coursework for the first two years.  It can then be much more affordable for a student to transfer to a 4-year school to complete his or her bachelor’s degree.  In my area, the community colleges offer full-tuition scholarships to attract top local students.
  4. Look for out-of-state public colleges with special pricing for out-of-state students – Many out of state schools offer reciprocity agreements with surrounding states to reduce out-of-state tuition to a rate equal to the in-state rate, or at least reduced from the normal out-of-state rate.  Many out-of-state public colleges also offer merit scholarships to out-of-state students.
  5. Look for private schools that meet 100% of need – A while back, I wrote about 42 schools that have large endowments to spend on students and agree to meet 100% of need.  See Minimize Your Out-of-Pocket College Cost – Part 2.
  6. Look for four-year schools near home to avoid paying room and board – If you want to avoid the cost of on-campus room and board, ranging $7,000 – $12,000 at most schools, look for good schools within commuting distance.  Of course this will provide a different social experience and later transition to independence for your student.

Investigate these options early in the process so that you can first steer your kid’s college search towards options that will meet your budget and then narrow down to the schools that meet your child’s criteria for size, setting, degree programs, and other key characteristics.