‘Tis the season for college decision letters and financial aid forms. Acceptance rates have decreased, as more students vie for fewer spots. Even with increased competition, getting into college may be easier than paying for it. Over the past five years, tuitions rose more than inflation. According to the College Board, the average sticker price for a full-time, first year student at a four-year private university was $28,500 in 2011-12. To make college more affordable:
1) Submit Financial Aid Forms Early
The New Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) became available on January 1st at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov. In 2011, there were more than ten million financial aid applicants. The College Board reported that the average student received more than $12,400 in federal government grants, loans, or other aid. Hundreds of private universities also require the College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to determine non-federal aid. Complete the PROFILE online at https://profileonline.collegeboard.org/ to get your share.
2) Apply for Free Money
Grants and scholarships are not repaid. Grants are need-based, while scholarships often depend on criteria, such academic and athletic achievements or intended major (like marine biology). The Pell Grant is the most popular federal grant and requires a comparison of the Expected Family Contribution (found on the FAFSA) to the Cost of Attendance (COA). Apply for many grants and scholarships, renew them, and beware of scholarship scams. According to the College Board, students received $112 billion in gift aid in 2011-12. For more information on grants and scholarships, visit http://www.fafsaonline.com/college-grants/ and http://www.studentscholarshipsearch.com.
3) Compare Apples to Apples
Weigh the costs and benefits of college choices. Explore community, public and private college options. Then, make the decision that is right for you. Compare the net prices (and financial aid packages) of each option. Net price is the sticker price (or published price) minus gift aid. This is the actual price that you pay. The College Board reported that the $28,500 sticker price for a private university has an actual net price of $12,970. For public colleges, the sticker price was $8,240, but the net price was $2,490. Use the net price calculator on college websites to find out the net price (and gift aid) estimates of your college options.
4) Help Others
Lower college costs through volunteer work, military service, and public interest or non-profit jobs in teaching, medicine, and law. For example, consider the TEACH grant and AmeriCorps. The TEACH grant awards up to $4,000 per year to education students, who will teach in high-demand fields (like science) for four years in low-income areas. AmeriCorps provides up to $7,400 in stipends and $4,725 in loan forgiveness for a twelve-month service. Know the financial consequences for leaving any program without completing its terms – such as converting grants to direct unsubsidized loans that students must repay with interest.
5) Graduate in Less Time
Reduce billable college time with Advanced Placement (AP) and summer session college credits. Students earn graduation credits at most American four-year colleges based on their AP scores. According to the College Board, colleges in more than 60 other countries also accept AP credits. Students can use these credits to meet graduation requirements in less time. Summer session credits also shorten the number of years spent in college. Less expensive summer colleges further reduce overall college expenses. Use AP and summer session credits to graduate early, reduce the number of billable college years, and join the work force faster.
“A Bachelor’s degree is the second biggest investment people make in their lives after buying a home. Both parents and students should take the time to invest in the right college for the right price,” states Joe Reister, Head College Advisor, Strivenow.com.