Before deciding on a college to attend, it is important to make sure that the college is affordable for your family. But how can a family find out which schools are affordable for them?
In general, if you are higher income, you will want to look for schools that offer a generous amounts of merit aid. Lower income families should look for schools that are generous with need-based aid. Schools that meet 100 percent of aid are going to be the most generous. For middle income families, the sweet spot will be schools that are generous with both need-based and merit aid.
Finding The Money to Go to College
If you’re not sure how you rank on the income scale, then consider calculating your family’s Expected Family Contribution (or EFC). The EFC is a measure of what colleges will expect you to be able to pay each year toward your student’s college costs. It is a key part of how colleges calculate a student’s financial need. A high EFC means that colleges will believe your family can contribute more to college costs and you will get little need-based aid. A low EFC means you are eligible for a lot of need-based aid from colleges. You can calculate your EFC using CollegeBoard.org’s EFC calculator.
There are many websites that will help you figure out which colleges offer what kind of aid: once again, CollegeBoard.org is a helpful place to start. When researching a college on that site, click on the Paying tab for that college. There you will see the Cost of Attendance. Next, click on the Financial Aid by the Numbers tab. This gives a breakdown of the types and amounts of aid offered by that school. Another excellent site is the U.S. government’s College Scorecard. For any accredited institution, you can see average costs broken out by income levels.
Consider Other Ways to Lower Costs
Targeting schools that will offer your student the best financial aid is an important way to lower your college costs, but there are some other options families can take advantage of. These include looking for colleges with lowers costs of attendance to begin with (typically public colleges, but some privates too). Arriving at college with some credits already completed is another way to save. Students can get college credit from AP and IB classes, as well as taking classes through their state’s dual enrollment programs. “It’s possible to come into college with a semester or even a year of college done,” explains Cecilia Castellano, vice president of Student Strategic Planning at Bowling Green State University. “At BG, you’ve just saved yourself $10,000 to $20,000.”
Check carefully with any schools to which your student is applying to make sure that those credits will transfer.
Private scholarships can also help lower that sticker price. Check out sites like FastWeb.com and StudentScholarshipSearch.com to get started.