As you shop around for colleges, know that the sticker price you see on the website, mailings and brochures isn’t necessarily the price you’ll be paying. In addition to providing financial aid
to meet need, colleges and universities try to woo students with generous scholarship and grant packages as well.
In the end, those high-price schools can actually be pretty affordable. For instance, the full price for a private college may be upwards of $60,000; however, you could land a scholarship and financial aid package that totals $50,000. That makes the private college just as affordable – if not more so – than a public college or university.
With that, it’s important to apply to colleges regardless of their price. Maybe you could start with the top 10 most generous colleges, according to The Princeton Review
1. Vassar College – Poughkeepsie, New York
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• Annual tuition and fees: $68,110
• Average financial aid package: $49,190
2. Princeton University – Princeton, New Jersey
• Annual tuition and fees: $62,750
• Average financial aid package: $51,365
3. Vanderbilt University – Nashville, Tennessee
• Annual tuition and fees: $68,980
• Average financial aid package: $49,076
4. Pomona College – Claremont, California
• Annual tuition and fees: $71,980
• Average financial aid package: $53,123
5. Williams College – Williamstown, Massachusetts
• Annual tuition and fees: $72,270
• Average financial aid package: $55,621
6. Grinnell College – Grinnell, Iowa
• Annual tuition and fees: $67,646
• Average financial aid package: $43,783
7. Washington University in St. Louis – St. Louis, Missouri
• Annual tuition and fees: $72,192
• Average financial aid package: $47,335
8. Bowdoin College – Brunswick, Maine
• Annual tuition and fees: $68,620
• Average financial aid package: $47,522
9. Yale University – New Haven, Connecticut
• Annual tuition and fees: $72,100
• Average financial aid package: $56,602
10. Rice University – Houston, Texas
• Annual tuition and fees: $63,252
• Average financial aid package: $43,174
Applying to Colleges Based on Price
In the admissions world, students are told to apply to three different types of colleges: the Reach School, the Target School, and the Safety School. This theory seeks to match students with schools that are a great academic fit for them.
With the Reach School, students can dream big and apply to that school that they feel they have no chance getting into because it has a very small acceptance rate or it’s a stretch academically. Target Schools have a decent acceptance rate and are a perfect fit academically. A safety school is one with at least an 80% acceptance rate.
The same could be applied to the financial aspect of schools. If there is a private school that you’re interested in but it’s way out of your budget, apply anyway. These schools typically have the most generous scholarship and financial aid
packages. Need any proof? Just look at the 10 colleges above. With merit scholarships and financial aid, these super expensive colleges can be just as affordable as a public, in-state university.
At the same time, you should apply to a few target financial schools too. These are schools that are financially feasible for your family, that would not require a large amount of student loan debt to attend.
Finally, community colleges can act as your safety school. In many areas, these institutions are free – or come at a considerably lower cost than a four-year institution. Many students opt to take their general courses at a community college for the first year or two and then switch to a four-year college in order to specialize in a specific major. This saves a lot of money in the long run.
How to Apply for Financial Aid: the FAFSA
Students can qualify for financial aid by one means only: the FAFSA
, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application becomes available on October 1 every year and can be found here
The FAFSA asks for financial information for both the students and their parents in order to assess how much the family can realistically pay for college. Though many parents do not contribute to paying for college, the federal government still considers it the parents’ responsibility, which is why the form delves so deeply into parental income and assets.
However, some students do qualify as independent students, meaning parental information is not required in order to complete the FAFSA. To see if you qualify as an independent student, check here
The information on the FAFSA is used to determine the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. Colleges receive the EFC and are then able to create a tailored financial aid package to meet the needs of each student. Some financial aid packages contain grants and work study options only. Other packages may be a mix of work study and student loans.
Expert Advice on Applying for Financial Aid
While there are a few ways you can maximize your aid eligibility
, the best thing you can do for your financial aid changes is to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.
The FAFSA technically has an 18-month application cycle, meaning the FAFSA deadline is not until June 30 of the following academic year. However, each state also uses the FAFSA to determine eligibility for state financial aid, like grants. Although the federal government is willing to dole out federal student loans at any point, states have a limited amount of financial aid.
As a result, they disperse financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. They also have FAFSA deadlines
that typically occur either as soon as possible after October 1 or in the springtime. In order for students to get the most out of their financial aid chances, they should submit the FAFSA sooner rather than later so that they are receiving funds from both the federal and state governments.
Many students will find that after receiving their financial aid package, there is still a gap between what the college costs and what the family can realistically afford to pay. In that scenario, students should look for student loans.
Even if you do not qualify as being financially needy, you can still receive an unsubsidized student loan from the federal government. These loans actually have the lowest interest rates, making them the most affordable option for students long term.
If further loans are needed, students can consider private student loans. These loans can be found right here on Fastweb
. You can also ask your financial aid office at the university you plan to attend for their preferred lender list. This is a list of private lenders with which the school has a relationship already.
When it comes to financial aid, take risks. Apply for that college that looks too expensive. The results may surprise you. Also, fill out the FAFSA and submit your application as soon as possible after October 1. There are so many things you can do to maximize your financial aid package. Make sure you are doing the work and putting in the time. It could pay off for you – literally.