There are over 1,600 four-year public and private colleges in the United States. And guess what, they don’t all cost an arm and a leg to attend. With this many colleges, there have to be quality, affordable options available for families who look for them. And there are students attending college without facing the prospect of years of debilitating debt. Yet, attending affordable colleges comes with some trade-offs that not all families are willing to make.
If you want to pay less for college, you need to pay more attention to college statistics. I’m sure many parents and students hip deep in the college admissions process think that they are drowning in college statistics but are still facing the prospect of impossible tuition bills. The problem is that they aren’t paying attention to the right statistics, or at the very least, not considering them in terms of how they affect the cost of going to college.
(Updated for 2021) For real. There are 394 colleges where the average college scholarship (institutional grant or merit) is over $20,000, an increase of 32 schools compared to last year. What’s the catch? There are only 288 (up from 250 in 2020) schools where 90% or more of freshmen receive institutional grants. Surprisingly enough, there are only 28 schools where 50% or fewer of freshmen receive an institutional grant of $20,000 or more.
The excitement generated by acceptance letters so many high school seniors received before April 1 has morphed into anxiety if not outright panic as families’ finances have been turned upside down. What was an affordable college before COVID-19 may not be any more. Athletes face uncertainty about scholarship availability. And there are students who would just rather stay a little closer to home than when they first created their college list.
So now what?
(For those looking for merit scholarships from colleges, I’m updating this post. Because I’ve updated the spreadsheet several times since I wrote this post, some of the numbers in the text won’t match the results in the graphics. You can see a video demonstration at the end of the post.)
In this post, I’m going to show you how to use the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet to find colleges most likely to provide generous merit scholarships in just four easy steps. These are schools that students with high Expected Family Contributions (EFC) should target for non-need based aid. This is in no way a guarantee. Rather, consider this a way to improve your chances for merit scholarships given the available information. The idea is to use this list as a basis to create the final list of colleges to apply to.
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid administered by the Office of Federal Student Aid. Students must submit the FAFSA to qualify for any federal financial aid, most state aid programs, and the vast majority of college aid programs. There is no cost to complete the FAFSA.
After diligently reporting their families’ financial information as accurately as possible in the FAFSA under the threat of a $20,000 fine and/or prison, high school seniors are anxiously waiting to receive their financial aid award letters. Now, even though each student’s family situation is different, applicants all completed a standard form for financial aid. Major financial factors such as loss of job or health issues have to be addressed in a separate letter to the financial aid office.
So why will the student probably receive financial aid award letters in as many formats as colleges applied to and often designed to deliberately mislead families on how much money they will have to pay?
If you have kids old enough for you to be thinking about the college admissions process and how you’ll pay for it, you also need to be thinking about how you’re going to compare colleges. Because the fact is that you’re going to be comparing lots of colleges, the sooner the better. You’re going to compare colleges when you decide which colleges to visit, which admissions reps to talk to at the college fair, which colleges to apply to, and which one to ultimately attend. So take this opportunity to consider the various ways you can actually compare colleges and their relative worth to your family’s situation.
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 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.