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5 Ways to Reduce College Costs

Yesterday I made a presentation for College Week Live: “How ACT & SAT Scores Can Lower Your Tuition Bill.” You can login and listen to the 40-minute presentation here. I give multiple examples showing how higher test scores can save you money and help earn scholarships. If you are looking for a little motivation to start (or continue) test prep, you might want to check it out.

Today I’m going to give you some other ideas to help save on tuition and/or pay college costs.

1. Select the right schools.

If you do only one thing to help manage your college bill, this is the one! Add colleges to your list based on the likelihood of receiving money.

If you have estimated what your family will pay each year (EFC) using a college net price calculator or the FAFSA4caster and know your out of pocket expenses for college will be very low due to financial need, you want to look for schools that are more likely to award aid in the form of grants or work study. In other words, you want to find colleges that are unlikely to meet a majority your need with student loans. You will also want to include schools that could meet your financial need with academic awards.

If you have estimated your out of pocket costs will be high, possibly resulting in no need for financial aid, you want to look for schools where merit aid or scholarships are likely. These tend to be schools where your grades and test scores fall into the above average category for admitted students. Because you would improve the academic profile of these schools, they are willing to offer scholarships to attract you and similarly qualified students to their campuses.

Keep in mind the scholarship aspect of selecting the right schools is based on supply and demand. Highly selective universities and those with recognizable and prestigious names don’t need to entice top students with scholarship money; these schools already have more potential students than they can admit. But a student who could get into Duke, NYU, or Brown could find a number of colleges, equally recognized in academic circles, that don’t have the household name status. Those schools are more likely to offer merit money.

2. Apply for scholarships.

(Yes, this seems obvious!) By the time students have prepared for and taken the ACT / SAT, put together a resume, researched schools, written essays, secured letters of recommendation, and finally sent all the college applications, most are simply too exhausted to apply for scholarships. But you can’t win if you don’t enter the game.

I’d encourage you to come up with a reasonable number of scholarships—either total applications sent or applications per month—and stay organized. Make your initial goal manageable, maybe 5 total applications. Take on more only when you have met your initial goal.

My students who have been most successful in applying for scholarships were persistent and organized. Be ready with a well-written resume. Repurpose essays whenever possible. Make sure you double-check everything and never miss a deadline.

With the same amount of time and some effort, students can “earn” more in scholarships than they would working a minimum wage job. (Of course, they could always do both!)

3. Work.

Work and save. Some students aren’t interested in applying for scholarships or they feel with lower grades it might not be worth their time, but everyone can work.

I’ve seen a lot of creative work options over the years. One of my neighbors set up a booming business as a high school freshman. She makes monograms, the kind you could put on your car, a tumbler, or a shirt. My Yeti is personalized thanks to her talents. She’s been able to save a lot of money for college– $5 to $10 dollars at a time.

Of course good old-fashioned babysitting, yard work, and summer jobs count too. The trick is to plan ahead and have a goal.

4. Earn credit through less expensive means.

You don’t have to give up on the four-year college experience and live at home to make this approach pay off.

Many high school students have the opportunity to earn college credits by taking dual enrollment courses through their high school or by doing well on Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.

I was doing a little research on one of the colleges my daughter is considering. The cost of a single course at this private school is $4,167. A score of a 4 or 5 on the AP U.S. History exam would save us over $4,000. (Sure makes the AP exam fee of $94 look like a great deal!)

You can save 25% off the cost of your college education if you graduate in three years instead of four. Earning less expensive credits can make this happen.

5. Get free food and housing by working as a resident assistant.

Responsible college sophomores, juniors, and seniors can live on campus in a single room with a free meal plan if they work as resident advisors. Most of the job involves being open and approachable and serving as a contact point for the residents on your floor. Unless you have been assigned to “Animal House” the amount of money you save by getting a free room and meal plan will more than make up for the few hours a week you put in resolving roommate disputes and organizing activities.

 

Do you have other money-saving college ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

Need Money For College?

Podcast 188: Important Distinctions Between Scholarships and Financial Aid

 

Families often mistake financial aid with scholarships, which can lead to confusion, disappointment, and wasted time as seniors choose their college and figure out how to pay for it.

In this episode of “The College Prep Podcast,” I break down how to think about the different pathways to paying for college, so that families can plan accordingly. Specifically:

  • what exactly financial aid is
  • why you should never lie about your assets to try to maneuver more financial aid
  • how to calculate the amount of money your family will be expected to pay for college
  • how to decide whether you should apply for financial aid in the first place
  • why you should apply for scholarships even if you only have an “average” student
  • where to start when looking for appropriate scholarships
  • and more

Listen here.

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15 Colleges Where Every Student Gets a Full-Tuition Scholarship

FREESome colleges talk about value as a way to justify the high cost of tuition.  Here are fifteen schools where EVERY student gets a full-tuition scholarship.  Some schools require work, military service, or demonstrated talent and few focus on students with financial need. The possibility of attending school for free and graduating without piles of student loans makes these schools attractive possibilities.

Antioch College (Yellow Springs, OH)

Antioch is working to reinvent itself in the new economy.  With the campaign, “Rethinking American Higher Education at a 160-Year-Old Start-Up,” Antioch is working to rebuild after closing in 2008.  Thirty-five new students represented the first new graduating class when the college reopened in 2011. Four-year full-tuition scholarships for all students entering in 2013 and 2014 should help draw the ambitious, visionary, hard working students Antioch wants.   The campus has historic buildings mixed with modern elements such as the sustainable campus farm.  Students considering liberal arts colleges who want an experience beyond the normal college scene should look into Antioch.

Deep Springs College (Big Pine, CA)

At Deep Springs 26 students live, work, and learn on a ranch in the high dessert on the California-Nevada border.  Deep Springs is a two-year liberal arts college with an intense atmosphere.  Students agree to two basic policies:  1.  No drugs or alcohol and 2.  No visitors or trips off-campus.  Currently the school maintains the all-male policy established when the school was founded in 1917, but the policy comes up for discussion annually.  Admission to Deep Springs is highly competitive with admissions rates similar to Ivy League schools (between 6-11% for the past few years.)  Most graduates continue their educations at four-year universities.

The Cooper Union (New York, NY)

(At the time this article was published, Cooper Union did not charge tuition, but the school has since decided to charge tuition for the first time in 150 years.)

If you want to study art, architecture, or engineering in the middle of New York, Cooper Union is your school.  It is top rated and located in the heart of Greenwich Village. The campus doesn’t include some of the amenities many students come to expect when visiting colleges such as fancy recreation center, but the academic challenge and location, coupled with no tuition, are plenty for Cooper Union students.  The school has had a long history of not charging tuition to all students able to gain admission.  Cooper Union has a sizable endowment and also makes a profit off its real estate holdings which include the Chrysler Building.  Admission to Cooper Union is highly competitive; last year they admitted 7.7% of the students who applied.

College of the Ozarks (Point Lookout, MO)

College of the Ozarks, also known as “Work Hard U”, is a Christian school that looks to admit quality students who lack the financial resources to pay for their own education. 90% of entering students must demonstrate financial need and the primary focus is on students living in the Ozarks region (specific counties in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Kansas), but they have students from other parts of the nation and world.  College of the Ozarks is one of the 7 work colleges in the US.  Students are expected to work 15 hours a week during the school year plus two 40-hour work weeks when school is out of session.  By working students develop real world skills, a work ethic, and they help pay for the education they are receiving.  For admission, students should be in the top half of their graduating class with a 20+ on the ACT or 950+ (R&M) on the SAT.

Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, PA)

Curtis Institute of Music is one of the world’s leading conservatories for exceptionally gifted musicians and performing artists.  The enrollment is small, about 165 students; just the number needed for a full symphony, opera department, and select other programs.  Since 1928 Curtis has offered full-tuition scholarships for all admitted students regardless of need.  Students are admitted based on talent and artistic promise and all students must audition.  Competition is fierce and recently only 3.2% of applicants were admitted.

Webb Institute  (Glen Cove, NY)

Webb Institute is an engineering school with one major: naval architecture & marine engineering.  Webb is recognized as a top engineering school and its graduates have a 100% job placement rate as well as high acceptance rates to graduate schools.  Webb’s 80 students enjoy a beautiful 26-acre campus, really a beach front estate, on Long Island Sound.  Anyone interested in marine engineering should investigate the immersive program at Webb.

Military Academies

Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, CO)

Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)

US Military Academy West Point (West Point, NY)

Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, NY)

Coast Guard Academy (New London, CT)

All of the military academies are prestigious and offer students an opportunity to get a world-class education for no cost (tuition, housing, food, books, and fees are all paid for.)  Students at the academies take traditional undergraduate classes, but also receive considerable training in their specific military area.  Service academies are tough – mentally, physically, and emotionally, and each school seeks to admit students who are up for the challenge.  All students agree to serve in their branch of the military for 5-8 years and graduates are guaranteed jobs as commissioned officers.  Many service academy graduates continue to serve in the military once their initial service obligation is over, but other graduates move to the private sector where they find their academy educations are well regarded by employers.

Alice Lloyd College (Pippa Passes, KY)

Alice Lloyd, the school’s founder, believed educational opportunities were lacking in this part of Appalachia.  The mission of Alice Lloyd College is to educate local students for positions of leadership while developing work ethic and Christian values.  Like College of the Ozarks, Alice Lloyd is one of only 7 work colleges in the US.  Tuition is guaranteed for full-time students who live in the 108 Appalachian county service area (Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, West Virginia). Some students come from outside this area and may receive some scholarships.

Berea College (Berea, KY)

Berea is similar to Alice Lloyd and College of the Ozarks in that students have financial need and tend to live in Kentucky or surrounding areas.  The college incorporates work ethic and every student works 10-15 hours a week to earn money for books, food, and expenses. Berea’s endowment funds 73% of the school’s operating expenses

Saint Louis Christian College (Florissant, MO)

SLCC is a small Bible college located in suburban Saint Louis that is dedicated to helping students prepare to share the gospel with others.  Many students intend to enter the ministry upon graduation.  All full-time students who live on campus receive 100% tuition scholarships.

Barclay College (Haviland, KS)

Barclay is another college dedicated to preparing students for lives of Christian service.  Barclay was founded by Quakers, but welcomes all evangelical faiths. All full-time on-campus students (just over 200 of them) receive full-tuition scholarships.  The campus is located in a small town and has a conservative feel, what you would expect from a Christian Bible College.

Of course, with free tuition, acceptance to most of these schools is very competitive.  Students need talent, good grades, strong applications, and competitive test scores to get in.  Check out my online SAT course if you need to improve your scores for these schools or any other colleges.

College Financial Aid and Why There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch

We’ve all heard the old adage —there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  In other words, we can’t expect to get something for nothing.  Unfortunately, popular media can lead families to believe that college financial aid is a way to get an education for free if they can just figure out the system.  Thousands of families are shocked to receive their financial aid letters and see the most popular form of financial aid – student loans.

Before I explain more about financial aid, let me make an important clarification – merit scholarships are NOT financial aid.  When I’m referring to aid, I mean the money a college allocates to cover the gap between what a family is expected to pay and the cost of attending a particular school.  I know some colleges offer “scholarships” as part of a college financial aid package, but these are really a method for the school to discount the cost.

Merit scholarships can help with the cost of a college education, but shouldn’t be considered financial aid because these scholarships are given based on a student’s talent – not financial need.  Athletes may receive merit scholarships that cover part or all the cost of their education.  I have a number of students who have been offered academic scholarships because their grades and SAT scores make them desirable candidates for a particular university.  Then there are countless other programs offering large and small scholarships for any number of talents or circumstances – making a prom dress out of duct tape, tall Texans, students with asthma, etc.

Financial aid is based on numbers not ability.  With the rising cost of a four-year education aid is not limited to low-income families.  Many middle class families qualify for some type of assistance. Financial aid is intended to cover demonstrated financial need—the difference between what it costs to attend a particular school and the amount it has been determined that the student and his or her family can afford to pay.

Too many people hear the words “financial aid” and think “free money.”  In some cases, college financial aid packages may include funds that do not need to be repaid. But if your family qualifies for financial aid, you have not just won the lottery; you should expect to see work-study and some loans as part of your award.  Yes, colleges are trying to make a four-year education accessible and they are sensitive to the growing debt-load many graduates face, but financial aid doesn’t mean free.

As my dad liked to say, “Ed McMahon isn’t coming!”  (I guess this dates those of us who remember Ed McMahon on TV delivering giant checks to the doors of Publisher’s Clearinghouse winners.)  So start thinking about how your family will pay for the cost of a college education.  Your plan may include savings, selecting a less expensive college, working summers, and maybe financial aid.  But you won’t be mislead into thinking that if you can only get the right financial plan, or hide your assets, or discover the secret system you will get four-years for free.