As the holiday season approaches, economic realities are forcing many families to reconsider their holiday gift lists. Similarly, with college costs escalating at more than twice the rate of inflation and families finding their college savings plans hit hard by the recent recession, college-bound seniors are revising their college lists to include schools that will be, for them, "financial safeties" - those schools most likely to meet a student's financial aid needs. However, with students are applying for financial aid in increasing numbers, it is important not to assume the state university system is the best - or the only - option available.
Many schools are offering different types of financial incentives to prospective applicants and a little research can reveal some interesting possibilities. Begin by looking locally as some institutions are offering aid to families who live near by. For example, Fairfield University will award full tuition scholarships to graduates of the high schools in Bridgeport, Conn., whose family incomes are below $50,000. Similarly, beginning next fall Boston University will replace loans with grant money for enrolled students who reside in Boston and who graduated from Boston public schools.
Some larger universities - such as Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Columbia - have recently reaffirmed their commitment to make college education affordable by committing to meet the financial needs of their students. Smaller private universities, such as Vanderbilt and Amherst, have tried to ease the financial burden on families by replacing need-based loans with institutional grants and scholarships. This relieves students of the weight of having to pay back large student loans upon graduation.
To entice strong applicants, colleges are also continuing to increase the amount of merit aid they are offering over need-based aid. By applying to a school where the student's GPA and SAT score will place him in the top tier of applicants, a student will increase his chances of being awarded merit aid, as well as the amount of that aid. This "differential packaging," or aid offered according to academic abilities, is more frequently used as a tool for admission at private colleges than public universities.
Finally, great bargains can be found in the Midwest, so considering schools from a broader geographic region may well reveal some hidden gems - educationally as well as financially. While Ohio may not offer the same cultural or social opportunities as Boston or New York, there are terrific colleges out there offering top-notch education at lower prices.
Public institutions are seeing dramatic increases in their applications as students seek financial safety schools, but the popularity of state-supported schools is putting tremendous strain on admissions offices who can only admit a limited number of students.
So, make your college list, then check it twice.
If financial aid in some form is needed, improve your chances of being awarded that aid by looking beyond the public universities, researching financial aid packages, applying to schools that need and want you, and casting your net wide. There are several ways to build a college list that will consider both your chances for admissibility as well as for receiving financial aid.
Reprinted with permission from Metrowest Daily News.