College Case Study: Great Colleges for a Smart Girl

In my last post, I shared two case studies of high school seniors who are wondering what colleges they should apply to in a few months.

Here’s my previous post:

2 College Case Studies: Where Should These Teens Go to College?

Today, I want to share some of the issues that Lucienne and her parents face.

I don’t think any teen can start exploring their choices until their parents obtain their preliminary Expected Family Contribution or EFC. The EFC is a dollar figure that represents what a family, at a bare minimum, will have to pay for a year of college.

Parents can obtain their EFC by using the EFC calculator at the College Board or the EFC calculator at

If you’re a parent and you don’t know what your EFC is, use one of these calculators. And don’t wait until your child is a senior.

Knowing your EFC is crucial because some school only help students financially who have a modest Expected Family Contribution. Most colleges, however, will also provide grants or scholarships to wealthy families too.

Now let’s look at some specifics:

Lucienne, who is a terrific student, wants to get off the West Coast and head East for college. Her family’s EFC is around $15,000. That means that she’s going to need about $35,000 in aid for a college that costs $50,000. As a practical matter, most schools wouldn’t be able to give her 100% of what she requires. That’s just the reality of college funding, but there are a few dozen colleges and universities in this country that do have deep enough pockets.

Amherst College & Williams College

Lucienne is particularly interested in Amherst College.  And Amherst happens to be one of those highly selective schools with the deep pockets. The liberal arts college doesn’t include any loans in its financial aid packages.

Another school that I thought Lucienne should check out, which also offers generous financial aid packages, is Williams College.  I mentioned Williams because it has a well-regarded art history program. At this point, Lucienne doesn’t know what she wants to major in, but her interests include reading, writing and art history.

Amherst and Williams would be excellent matches financially for Lucienne, but there is a catch. These two schools, like other colleges with the best financial aid policies, reject most of their applicants.   Amherst and Williams recently accepted just 15% and 20% of its applicants respectively.

Lucienne’s stellar academic record suggests that she’d do fine at these elite schools, but that doesn’t mean she will get a chance. There are too many fantastic kids trying to break into schools like Williams and Amherst.

And frankly, just because a college is extremely selective hardly means that it would be the best choice for Lucienne. What I told Lucienne is that she should also include on her list other wonderful liberal arts colleges where she’d enjoy a better chance at admission. I told her to look not just at what the schools offer academically, but also at what their financial aid practices are.

Liberal Art College Suggestions

Among the colleges that I suggested that Lucienne explore were Oberlin College (34%), Muhlenberg (45% acceptance rate), Franklin & Marshall (48%), Dickinson College (49%),   Lawrence University (69%) and Beloit College (73%).

I also told the teenager to check what percentage of financial need each of these schools typically meets. You can find that out by checking a school’s profile on College Board and then clicking on Cost and Financial Aid. Dickinson College, for instance, typically meet 97% of a student’s financial need.

The better the student, the better the chances of receiving an excellent aid package from these schools.

When doing their research, Lucienne and her parents now know that they also need to check what percentage of a school’s financial aid packages is typically grants/scholarships versus loans and work study. The higher the percentage of grants the better. You can find those statistics on each school’s financial aid profile on the College Board.

The schools that I suggested over the weekend are far more generous than the couple of other schools on Lucienne’s original list: Pace University, which meets 76% of a student’s need and New York University which only meets 71%.

I’ll be curious what colleges end on up Lucienne’s final list.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and a new eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College. She also blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. Lynn –
    Lucienne sounds a lot like our daughter. In addition to 2-3 highly selective liberal arts schools, she’ll apply to some eqyually impressive ones that have higher admission rates. In addition to a few you mentioned, The College of Wooster (OH) and Lafayete College (PA) have caught her interest.

  2. Might add Ursinus to that list (a little bit better school than Muhlenberg) and also one that uses scholarship money to attract kids like Lucienne.

    Good luck with Amherst. My daughter – salutatorian in a class of 468 at a blue ribbon HS, GPA 4.61, editor of yearbook, plenty of extras, high ACT, 780 chemistry SATII, yada yada – waitlisted by Havard but rejected by Amherst. Go figure.

    Also, hope you don’t make too much money, because then the $$ package wont be all that you might expect. Same with Williams. Plus, these top 10 liberal arts schools really have to push against their prep school images and very actively seek to diversify a high % of their admits, so if you are a bright Shoshone Native American who plays the bassoon, you are in with almost a full ride.

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for your insights! I think Ursinus and Muhlenberg are both wonderful schools. As for your other point, some East Coast schools are so exclusive that it would be ridiculous for anybody to assume they would get in.

      My son’s best friend is an example. Nathan aced the SAT, is a National Merit scholar, he’s his school’s valedictorian and he’s African American. Harvard rejected him and Yale put him on its wait list.

      That was okay because he wanted to go to a liberal arts college anyway. He apparently was listening to me all those years during the carpool commutes. He’ll be attending Carlton College in the fall.