Are You a Bargain Shopper?  

By College Counseling


When it comes to an expensive purchase like college tuition, most parents are!  After hosting informational meetings this month, a recurring theme of concern was the high cost of college attendance and the availability of scholarships to offset this cost.


Can you get a worthwhile education for half the cost?  Or in retail slogan terms, can you get brand names for less?  A recent report by Inside Higher Ed reveals that for the first time, discount rates for freshmen at private colleges top 50 percent.  You may be a parent who wonders, why pay full price when you don’t have to? How do I minimize costs and still maximize my child’s opportunities?


Create your list of generous colleges.  One way to capitalize on a college’s potential generosity is to research colleges where your standardized test scores and GPA rank in the top 25 percent of the most recent admitted freshman class. Some, not all colleges, will offer merit scholarships to these upper tier applicants in their letters of acceptance. Presidential scholarships at certain colleges award approximately $20k per year over four years. A tuition discount of $80k is worth pursuing. Most of these scholarships may be contingent upon maintaining a minimum GPA in a chosen major.


Another way to earn scholarship money is by earning admission into Honors programs. Some of these programs offer money in addition to perks such as advance course registration and selective dormitory housing. Some of these programs are more reputable than others. Examine the individual criteria and the specific advantages of enrolling in Honors at the schools on your list.


Eligibility for various scholarships varies by school. Some colleges guarantee scholarships if standardized scores meet a specific number, some require personal interviews and participation in weekend activities.  Several ask for specific supplemental essays. A thorough examination of individual websites of the colleges will offer a detailed explanation of requirements and deadlines for merit scholarships.


Many colleges do not award any merit scholarships. They only offer grants based on family need, and for schools that meet 100 percent need, they will satisfy the monetary gap between your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) and the COA (Cost of Attendance).


If your family will not qualify for need-based aid and if merit money is a necessary factor for your student to attend college, it is critical that you share this information with your student.  Although it may be a disappointing reality, it is frustrating for students to be awarded admission into a dream college only to realize they cannot afford to attend. Keep in mind, however, that the majority of colleges do offer some version of aid.


To get some sense of your EFC, and thereby determine your eligibility for need-based aid, start experimenting with a net price calculator. Just type “net price calculator” along with a specific college name into your search engine, fill in your responses to questions concerning your earnings and net worth along with the student’s test scores and GPA.


Financial data combined with the student’s scores feeds the base level data for the calculator to generate your EFC.  This monetary figure is not a perfect predictor of your tuition demands but it offers families some sense of their future obligations before they file their FAFSA (Free Applications for Federal Student Aid).  Some private colleges require a CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile in addition to the FAFSA to further investigate your qualifications for financial aid.