Elite private colleges charge $65,000 or more to attend their institutions, which is out of reach for most students looking to attend college. Their defense is that they offer generous financial aid. But the financial aid system can be daunting. It’s bad enough that filling out all the forms requires an accounting degree, but the system is so complicated that it is difficult to forecast what college will cost once you get there. How can you plan to attend a school when you have no idea what it really will cost?
Fortunately, some schools have taken steps to help overcome the knowledge gap. Wellesley College led the way in 2013 when it introduced its MyinTuition tool
, an extremely simple financial aid calculator that provides students and their families with an easy way to get an estimate of the cost of attendance.
How does it work? Students or their parents simply enter six basic financial characteristics that they are likely to have a good idea of their values. These include parents’ total income, the value of their home (and a link to Zillow is provided), mortgage balance, retirement account, other financial investments, and the amount of cash they have in the bank. Exact values are not necessary.
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It takes three minutes to complete the form. Afterwards, the calculator presents students with an estimate of what Wellesley College will cost, including expected out-of-pocket costs, work-study commitments, and loan amounts. Since the results are just an estimate, the tool also provides a range of likely values.
The results may be shocking to families that can't afford $65,000. A typical student from a family making $70,000 (around the median for families with college-aged students) would be expected to pay roughly $8,000 at Wellesley College. The student would also be expected to take a work-study job for around 8 hours per week and to take out a loan of $1,800.
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These aren’t trivial hurdles, but the cost is far from $65,000. A typical student whose family makes $40,000, would be expected to pay $2,000 with the same 8 hours per week work-study job and no loan expectation.
The reason this matters so much is because it can change college decisions. At this price, an elite private college like Wellesley is a reasonable option. Perhaps other elite private colleges are affordable options as well.
In fact, MyinTuition is spreading to other colleges. Last year, Williams College and the University of Virginia also adopted the tool. This coming spring, it will spread to another dozen or so schools who recognize its value. Hopefully many more schools will soon be using it as well.
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Why does all of this matter? Because all students looking to attend college should have as many options available to them as possible. Some students may choose not to attend college at all because they are scared of the cost. Other students may avoid applying to colleges that would be a great fit for them, missing out on an opportunity to get the most out of their college years.
At the end of the day, what we all desire for our children is to have a fair chance. MyinTuition
is one tool that can help accomplish that.