I think that there are a lot of families out there that would like to drop out of the race to get into the most prestigious college possible. They know that there are good reasons to look elsewhere. With seemingly ever decreasing admission rates among the brand name schools, the numbers are against you. And financially, it often just makes sense to go to a lesser-known school. But people can’t help but wonder if doing so means “settling” for less. They want to know what happens to people who go to colleges no one has ever heard of.
When high school students start looking for colleges to apply to, they rarely consider college graduation rates. Even with the sky-rocketing costs of college, most families still don’t consider graduation rates. They may notice it when a school advertises its four-year graduation guarantee but I suspect most just dismiss it as not applying to “their” situation.
(Skip to the end to see the list of top three college by graduation rates.) When trying to identify the cheapest colleges (or most affordable or hidden bargains or whatever your preferred terminology happens to be) it’s probably a good idea to keep in mind the saying, “you get what you pay for.” Unfortunately, too often this means that people just assume the more expensive product is the better one. The same is often true of colleges especially since it’s so difficult to actually figure out what you’re paying for. If you’re able to step away from the shiny attraction of prestige and brand names, I have a suggestion: graduation rates.
Most people know that good grades will get you into college. And maybe if they’re good enough (along with an appropriate essay and the right extracurriculars and recommendations), they might get you into your dream or reach college. But while good grades may get you into your dream college, chances are they won’t pay for it with academic scholarships. This often comes as a surprise to students and their families but it really shouldn’t. There are 3 common situations where students aren’t going to qualify for enough academic scholarships to pay for college.
(I’ve updated the number of community colleges with dorms with data available from IPEDS in March, 2023.) As families recoil in horror contemplating the price tag of four years of college, some start to look more closely at all of the available options, including community colleges with dorms. Since community colleges are offering more traditional college amenities such as dorms, honor programs, sports, and student activities, they are becoming a more attractive way for families to seriously cut their college expenses.
By no such thing as Harvard Scholarships, I mean no such thing as Harvard Merit Scholarships. So if you’re thinking you’ll be able to pay for Harvard based on your kid’s academic qualifications (after all, they were good enough to get into Harvard) you need to think again. The reward for your student’s amazing accomplishment is the acceptance letter itself. Any scholarships Harvard hands out will be based on financial need, not academics.
In case you haven’t heard, some colleges are more likely to provide you institutional scholarships and grants than others. Some are more generous with merit aid while others give better need-based aid. And just as some colleges are known for their aid, there are those that are known for the lack of it and shouldn’t be found anywhere near a list of affordable colleges. In this post, I’m listing 21 colleges that you should avoid if you’re looking for significant help in cutting the cost of college.
(See the list for 2022 at the end of the post.) What are the hardest colleges to get into? Anyone going through the college admissions process can’t help but ask the question at least once. It’s a lot like visiting a Parade of Homes that you know you’ll never afford or maybe like rubbernecking while driving past a car wreck on the freeway-which ever analogy works for you. Of course, you can just look at US News College Rankings and get a pretty good idea. And that’s the point, everything in the media seems to reinforce the perception that exclusivity equals quality. Even if when we know better, we can’t help but feel insecure when we choose a lesser-known college.
A college comparison spreadsheet is really the most effective way to narrow your list of colleges you want to actually apply to. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s pretty useful when trying to make the final decision on which to attend as well. It’s just that I think that by putting in a little spreadsheet grease at the beginning of the process will provide you with much more affordable choices at the end of the process. The key is to make sure that your college comparison spreadsheet contains these 5 often overlooked pieces of information that will give you some idea of how much you’ll pay for college.