Let’s begin with some great news: Most families do not pay full price for college. According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, 87 percent of incoming freshmen received institutional grants and/or scholarships. So how do you find the best deal?
To begin, you need to understand who gets scholarships and where to look for them. Many make the mistake of only looking at private scholarships from charities, foundations and other outside groups. These awards—which can be found on scholarships.com and fastweb.com—are highly competitive and represent a very small amount of what is actually granted. A better source of locating scholarships is staying local. Most high schools have a list of available scholarships, many of which do not have need-based criteria and often go unapplied for. I recently learned that a local scholarship of $2,500 went unused after no one applied.
You will need to know your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to see if you will be eligible for need-based financial aid. The EFC determines how much the school will expect you to pay for one year of college, which means you need to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. If you have a high EFC, look for schools that provide merit aid. If your score is lower, look for schools that are generous with those who qualify for need-based financial aid.
Your next stop should be the online Net Price Calculator Center at collegecost.ed.gov/netpricecenter.aspx. The best way to cut costs is to apply to colleges that will give you the most scholarships and grants. Before applying, you can use this federally-mandated calculator to obtain a personalized estimate of what the college will cost. Some find that a school with a high tuition may award a financial aid or merit package that will cut the published cost in half.
Once you know what the net price could be, you will want to find out how stingy the school is on financial and merit aid by visiting collegeboard.org. Enter the school, and then click on the “Paying” tab on the left side of the screen. At the top of this page, you will see a tab entitled “Financial Aid By the Numbers.” This takes you to a screen that will show the number of students who apply for need-based aid, the number judged to have need, the number who were offered aid, and how many had the full need met.
Last but not least, check graduation rates. Go to collegecompletion.chronicle.com to find four-year graduation rates by state and by college. It does not benefit you to find the lowest net-priced school if the students take more than four years to graduate.
There are many ways to cut costs for college, but the more informed you are, the better your chances of realizing significant savings—and using those funds for your own retirement. iBi
Daryl Dagit is the Market Manager, Financial Advisor in the Peoria office of Savant Capital Management. He can be reached at (309) 693-0300.