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  • Writer's pictureKate Pedigo, M.Ed., NCC

College Search & Selection: Financial Fit

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Financial fit is important in college planning.

Financial fit is an important consideration for many families during the college selection process. Proper planning and research can help families identify "financial fit" schools.

Below are some helpful considerations with respect to financial fit:

Discuss the college budget with your student. Before beginning the college search process, consider discussing how you plan to pay for college. Determine the following:

  • How much money can parents cash flow per year?

  • What expenses will the student be responsible for paying?

  • Will the student take out a federal loan ($5500 max allowed first year, $6500 second, $7500 third and fourth)?

  • Is a parent loan a viable option to cover remaining expenses, keeping in mind that these can have high interest rates?

Complete the Net Price Calculator (NPC) for each school of interest. The NPC can be found on each school's website. It provides families an estimate of the cost of attendance by incorporating individual academic and financial factors. Estimated costs are often closest to reality when the school's NPC asks detailed questions and the parent's responses are accurate (rather than educated guesses).

Learn about the merit aid (scholarship) and need-based aid practices at your schools of interest. Merit and need-based aid information can typically be found on school websites and the Common Data Set for each school. Some questions to consider:

  • Does the school offer merit aid at all? (many highly selective schools do not)

  • What percentage of students receive merit aid and what is the average award?

  • Does the school have an automatic merit chart? (often based on GPA and test scores)

  • Are all students considered for institutional scholarships during the college application process, or is there a separate competitive application process?

  • What are the GPA requirements to retain merit aid in future years? What are the procedures if a student falls below the required GPA?

  • Is the school "need-blind" or "need-aware" in admissions (does the school consider a family's ability to pay when making admission decisions)? Does the school meet 100% of demonstrated need?

  • Will need-based aid change from year to year based on income changes?

  • Can merit aid and/or need-based aid be stacked with outside scholarships, or is aid decreased when outside scholarships are awarded?

Understand potential tuition/fee changes. Some schools increase tuition yearly, but may not increase need/merit aid accordingly. Other schools "freeze" tuition for four years. It's also important to note that some majors at some schools face increased fees in later years.

Consider prioritizing "Likely" schools. Larger merit aid awards are often more likely when the student is academically a top applicant.

Look for opportunities to earn college credit in high school. There are several ways to earn college credit in high school including Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, dual credit and dual enrollment courses, early college high schools, and College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). Some four-year institutions are very generous about accepting college credits earned during high school, while others are not. Students who attend colleges with generous transfer credit policies can often take a semester or more off of their college timeline.

Consider a community college transfer plan. Community college can be a much less expensive way to complete the first year or two of college, especially if the student can live at home. Many community colleges have guaranteed transfer agreements with specific four-year institutions and/or can help students choose courses that will easily transfer. Note, however, that merit aid for transfer students at four-year institutions is typically less generous than for first-year students.

Set expectations if choosing to add potentially out-of-budget schools to the college list. Sadly, students are sometimes accepted to a "dream school", only to be unable to attend due to cost. If the dream school is outside of the budget, will you choose to cover the additional cost? Is the budget non-negotiable? It's important that students understand what to expect.

Think about additional factors. Expected and unexpected expenses can be significant. Some factors to think about:

  • Be sure to include expenses such as travel to/from home, entertainment/dining out, and dorm vs off-campus housing costs when determining the cost of attendance

  • Despite best efforts, sometimes students don't finish college in four years and will need to add a semester or more to graduate

  • Many students have extra expenses when adding study abroad

  • Some degrees lead to graduate/professional school, which often results in significant additional educational costs

  • Other students in the family may want to attend college as well

Financial fit considerations are unique to each family. Planning, research, and open communication between parents and students can help ensure that the college list includes schools that are financial matches.

At Growing2College, we help students and families evaluate their needs with respect to college search and selection, and guide them in the creation of a balanced college list.

Request a free 20-min consultation to learn more about how we can be helpful.

Kate Pedigo, M.Ed. NCC is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Growing2College. Join us on social media for college planning updates, tips, and resources: Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn    

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