Can This Family Afford Syracuse University?

When students are shopping for colleges, admission representatives typically urge them to ignore the sticker price.
Here’s what these college reps routinely say:  We’ve got lots of financial aid and scholarships. Just APPLY!
I was reminded of why applying blind is such a reckless strategy when a mom contacted me after her husband heard me give a college talk recently at a posh hotel in Los Angeles. Her son had gotten into Syracuse University, a private school in upstate New York. The kid is super excited, but the parents are stressing.

Getting Stiffed by Syracuse

The affluent family’s expected family contribution of $30,000 or so is much higher than most. The EFC is what the family would be expected to pay at a minimum for one year at Syracuse or any other school.
Since tuition and room/board at the university costs nearly $51,000 and books, travel and incidentals will boost that price, that would leave room for Syracuse to give this student some need-based financial aid or a merit award. But the teen got nothing. When I heard this, I asked about the teen’s academic profile and the mom said he had about a 3.4 GPA.

Coming Up Short at State Universities

The boy didn’t capture money at any of the other schools that he applied to, which is unusual when you consider that two-thirds of college students who attend state and private schools receive some type of grant or scholarship. What’s more, 88% of students who attend private schools receive a price break in the form of in-house grants.
The student didn’t qualify for any need-based at the state schools in California that were on his list. That’s hardly surprising since the family makes too much money to receive aid at the lower-priced state schools. The other schools on his list were out-of-state public universities including Indiana University and I believe the mom said the University of Oregon.

What Public Universities Care About

Some state schools will give highly talented out-of-state students scholarships with top GPA’s and standardized test scores, but these state institutions are primarily focused on charging very high tuition to nonresidents to bring in needed dollars. The teen’s GPA and presumably his SAT scores weren’t high enough to receive a price break from state universities, which primarily evaluate students based on their academic stats. In contrast, private schools and particularly colleges can take a more holistic admissions approach.
It’s not easy to be shut out of award money by every school on a teen’s list, but it happened to this family. Ironically, there would have been plenty of private schools that would have given this teenager a price break. The mom told me that she and her husband had enough saved to pay for one year of Syracuse. They aren’t sure what to do after that.
I feel for them.

More on The College Solution Blog:

Getting a Break on Out-of-State Tuition
Is Your EFC Too High?
Calculating Your EFC
10 Great Opening Lines from Stanford Admissions Essays
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of Shrinking the Cost of College, a workbook available on her website. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. On Twitter follow her @CollegeBlogs.

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  1. Do financial aid offices strip down weighted GPAs before they make award decisions? My high school does not weight grades…are our students at a disadvantage for receiving financial aid because of this.

    1. Hi Millie,
      Every school uses it’s own methodology to reconfigure GPAs since schools arrive at them so differently. In the counselor report, the high school counselors also provide schools with a description of their institutions that include the highest GPA a child can receive. A teen could also mention this in the application or when talking to a college rep.
      Good luck
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy