It should be no surprise to you that college costs a lot of money. Four years of higher education at a private college can sometimes reach nearly a quarter of a million dollars and even a state school can top $100,000! Yet when building your college list, don’t let cost be your determining factor. There is a lot of money out there if you know where to look.
One of the first places to start is with your own timeline. In short, colleges have more money to offer to the early birds — students who apply earlier. It’s a simple question of resources: early applicants are more likely to receive offers of college-based financial aid rather than students who apply long after the deadline.
By that point, most of the college’s money will be gone.
Another factor to consider is the college’s position on how it views the relationship between financial aid and offers of acceptance. There are two main terms that colleges use to describe their approaches. “Need blind” or “full need” refers to colleges that do not consider your financial status when they review your application. Most of these schools have significant endowments that support this kind of financial aid policy. Some will promise to cover all of the demonstrated financial need to all students who are accepted; others may offer aid to fewer students. “Need aware” or “need sensitive” describes colleges that make most of their acceptance decisions without considering financial status. Additionally, these schools will probably hold some spots for students who are able to pay for college on their own.
Finally, many students ask me if checking that financial aid box on a college’s application will help or harm their chances of acceptance. This can be a tough call. Research your schools and identify their philosophy — use terms such as “need blind” or “need aware” and ask them to explain how they use this information when reviewing applications.
You can learn about the college’s position on financial aid on its website or by calling the financial aid office directly. Ask about the number of students who receive financial aid, the average amount they are awarded, and what kind of financial aid they receive. Be especially wary of schools that claim to offer high amounts of financial aid that are mostly loans.
Scholarships and grants do not have to be paid pack; loans do — sometimes at very high interest rates.
You don’t want to graduate college with thousands and thousands of dollars in debt. Knowing how a school views financial aid can help you make an informed decision.