College can be an exciting, extraordinarily expensive experience. With hundreds of schools breaching the $50,000 and even $60,000 per year tuition mark, paying can be quite a daunting task. While a school’s advertised tuition cost can be a concern when selecting colleges to apply to, try not to get too hung up on it, as the marketed “sticker” price is almost always not what you will pay for your education.
Studies show that two-thirds of students from low-income families rule out schools based on the sticker price. As much as half of students from affluent families rule out schools for the same reason. But sticker prices are only half, and often much less, of the tuition payment equation.
Two-thirds of students studying at four-year colleges and universities today are receiving one of many forms of tuition breaks, scholarships or financial aid. Even as many as 85% of students at private colleges receive some type of help paying for school. These are remarkable numbers, but as the studies show, they are often misunderstood. Since October of last year, the US government has required schools to post a “net-price calculator” on their websites to give students a better idea of tuition costs after financial aid. Unfortunately, only one-third of college-bound students have reported to have used them.
These net-price calculators are the key to creating a realistic college list. Federal student loans, alumni support, merit-based scholarships, non-merit scholarships, athletic scholarships, writing and math competitions and academic grants are often largely untapped forms of financial aid that can help bring down tuition costs. Seek out information from your high school guidance office about these types of opportunities.
A good education can be worth the expense, and these tuition prices might not affect you and your family as much as you think. Be wary, however, as there is growing competition for merit-based scholarships and grants. Work hard, set realistic goals and use available resources to help you through academic and financial stress. The next time you think about ruling out a great school based on its sticker price, try the net-price calculator and make a smart decision about its affordability.