Cutting the Cost of College for the Wealthy

I had a mom email me today who has been doing her homework this summer. Specifically, she’s been reading my eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Price of a Bachelor’s Degree, in the hopes of making college more affordable for her family.

After I emailed her back, I thought I’d share what I told her since there are plenty of other families facing her issue.

The mom, I’ll call her Jane, has a boy, who will be graduating from high school in the spring. Following my eBook’s advice, she used an online tool to determine her approximate Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Expected Family Contribution

A family’s EFC refers to the amount of money, at a minimum, that a college will expect a family to pay for one year of school. Jane’s EFC of $37,000 is very high, which means her family probably enjoys a healthy six-figure income. I’d venture that it is easily over $200,000 a year. With an EFC of $37,000, Jane’s son wouldn’t qualify for any need-based aid at a school that cost $37,000 or less. And most schools fall into that price category.

Despite her high EFC, Jane is eager to find  colleges that will discount their tuition.  And she won’t have to look too hard since most colleges will provide merit awards to smart, rich students. Her EFC could be in the six figures and her son could still snag merit scholarships from schools.

Schools That Don’t Cut Prices for Rich Kids

I’d estimate that there are only about four dozen schools in the country that don’t award merit scholarships to wealthy students. The best known schools in this category include the Ivy League schools. If you want to learn the identify of some of the other ones, look at the top 15 institutions in US News & World Report’s lists of the and best liberal arts colleges and best universities. Most of these schools don’t give merit money to rich kids. Thanks to their national reputations and high college rankings, these schools don’t have to entice rich students to apply. Wealthy students will flock to schools like Harvard, Princeton and Amherst and their parents will pay more than $50,000 a year without griping.

In her own case, Jane wanted to know how a school would handle a merit award to her son. Specifically she was curious to know if a merit award would be deducted from the cost of the college or from her own EFC of $37,000. She was hoping for the latter. I told her that any school would deduct the merit award from its cost of attendance, not from her EFC.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say that the cost of a college was $50,000 and her son got a $15,000 merit award. The cost of the college would drop to $35,000. The $15,000 would not be deducted from her EFC of $37,000.

Another Source of College Cash

I told Jane that there was one more way that a wealthy family could get their college costs down further. Schools routinely offer talent scholarships to students that aren’t dependent on a student’s financial need.  Lots of colleges give out music scholarships, as well as awards for volunteering, art, leadership, science and other talents. is a great source for these institutional scholarships.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also write college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

Join My Newsletter
Get your free guide to finding the most generous colleges
Practical, actionable information for Students, Parents, Counselors & Financial Advisors.

Let's Connect

Leave a Reply

  1. I realize this is an older article but our EFC is $34,000 and my husband makes $150,000. In NJ, that is not a lot of money. It comes in, it goes out. It seems incredible that colleges look at the total income and not the mortgage, prop. taxes, etc., etc., that eats away at that income.

    There is not planet in which I’d consider us “wealthy” or even “affluent” and we’re expected to come up with $34,000 each and every year our daughter goes to school.

  2. My daughter wants to become a Vetinarian. I heard it is a long, tough competitive program to get into, and the income once she is a vet is not that great. Can you confirm this. Thank you, Sharon