Thursday, May 24, 2007

Paying for College--4 Secrets You Should Know

With the cost of college tuitions rising, and a college education being practically a necessity in this age, many parents are worried about how they will pay for their child(ren)'s education.
It's a topic that I've seen beaten to death, and yet there's four things that I know that don't seem to be routinely discussed.
I went to Wellesley College. At the time that I went, tuition costs (including food and housing) ranged from $24-26,000 per year. I know that tuition costs have increased since then. Also at the time, my mother was a single mother making less than $20,000 per year. She had no money saved to pay for my college. Although she didn't show it, she probably had heart palpitations every time I showed her the costs of the colleges that I was interested in. Yet the total cost that we paid, for all four years, including my student loans, actually came out to only around $20,000. In my opinion, that's not so bad.
Here are the four things that I learned:
1. Public vs. Private. Public schools often offer tuitions much lower than private schools. However, private schools have more money to spend on financial aid. Aside from Wellesley, I was also admitted to SUNY Geneseo, as well as other private schools. The financial aid package that Wellesley offered was significantly better than the financial aid package I received from SUNY Geneseo. With Wellesley, we would pay less per semester and I would take out less money in student loans. A very large percentage of the financial aid package from Wellesley was in the form of a grant, directly from the school. SUNY Geneseo wasn't able to offer this at all. Wellesley also gave every incoming first year student on financial aid a garbage can and ashtray (required in every room for fire safety) and a gift certificate for the student book store.
2. Ask and you shall receive. I can't remember whether it was my second or third year there, but I suddenly faced every student's nightmare...there was no way we could afford even the small amount that the college wanted us to pay. Full of shame, and expecting to be told to go home until we could get the money, I went to the financial aid office and told them my situation. Their response? "No problem. Sign this paper and we'll give you a loan. You can pay us later." I can't say for certain, since this was a long time ago, but I *think* that this was an interest free loan. I have heard many other stories of people asking for more financial aid help and getting it. Try it and you might be pleasantly surprised.
3. You can play schools off of each other. I heard this often in prospective student meetings. If you want to go to School A, but School B gives you a better financial aid package, call School A and see if they can match it. Almost always, they can. This worked for a friend of mine. She had been accepted into graduate programs at the University of Michigan and Harvard. She preferred Michigan's program, but Harvard was offering her the better deal. When she called the University of Michigan about this, they were able to match Harvard's package and my friend could attend the school of her preferance.
4. Free tuition for lower-income families. Also important, but I don't often see mentioned, is that Harvard offers free tuition to low income families. Their definition of low income is under $60,000 (which is far from "low income" in my book, but hey...). They also offer reduced payments for families in the $60-80,000 income bracket. But it's not just Harvard. A google search for "free tuition low income" brings up several results, including University of Washington and Stanford. Harvard may have been the first to do this, but many others have followed suit.
Well, those are my little secrets. Do you have any other ideas?


Anonymous said...

Good grief, since when is $60,000 and below "low income?" Well, I guess for Harvard...LOL!