How do you cut the cost of college?
The best way to shrink college costs is to be an educated consumer. If money is an issue – and it almost always is – you need to evaluate schools to determine which ones are generous and which are stingy.
Here are 10 ways that can help you shave significant dollars off the college tab:
1. Cast a wide net.
Thirty-five percent of students attend colleges 50 miles away or less and more than half attend schools within 100 miles of their home. In-state schools,, however, aren’t always the cheapest. Sometimes private colleges cost less than public universities after financial aid and scholarships. Unfortunately, 59% of students say they only look at college price tags when shopping for schools.
2. Check out a school’s graduation rate.
This is scandalous, but only about 35% of students attending four-year schools graduate in four years! Fewer than 60% of college students graduate in six years. Use College Results Online to find four-year grad rates.
3. College sticker prices are meaningless.
Most schools discount prices. The tuition discount rate is 49% for private schools. State schools also discount for students of all income levels. In fact, 50% of grants from state flagship universities go to students who have no demonstrated financial need.
4. Look for the schools with the most generous financial aid packages.
Here is a good place to start hunting for colleges with the best financial aid.
5. Find out what colleges will expect you to pay.
To do this check out the College Board’s Expected Family Contribution calculator. Your Expected Family Contribution is what colleges will expect you to contribute, at a minimum, for one year of your child’s college education.
6. Use the new net price calculators.
Beginning in late October, the federal government is requiring colleges to put a net price calculator on their websites. These college cost calculators will give families an excellent idea of what a school will cost before they apply. These calculators are going to be revolutionary. Learn more by reading my post: A New Way to Add Up the Cost of College.
7. Apply for aid regardless of your income.
Families that make $150,000 to $200,000 can sometimes qualify for significant need-based aid at pricey colleges.
8. Look for merit scholarships.
At private schools, 82% of students receive merit aid. An excellent resource for scholarships that colleges offer — the biggest source of college cash — is MeritAid.com.
9. Don’t freak out about poor SAT/ACT scores.
You can find the list of colleges and universities which don’t require SAT or ACT scores for admission at FairTest.org. About a third of the top 100 liberal arts colleges are test optional.
10. Limit borrowing to federal student loans.
Students should only borrow through federal student loans which have built-in repayment programs.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of Shrinking the Cost of College workbook. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.