February 2017 Counselor News
As you know, financial aid — institutional, state or federal — often doesn’t just determine IF a student can go to college, but it also affects WHERE the student will go to college. But too often families will eliminate a college based solely on the perceived cost without factoring in financial aid. Or worse, families may assume they won’t qualify of any aid so they don’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is also often used to determine institutional aid.
“The important thing is for students not to look at the ‘sticker price’ for college, as only a very small percentage of students actually pay this amount,” said Wade Peterson, a college counselor at Breakthrough Twin Cities. “I always tell my students that a theoretically more expensive college can actually be less expensive in reality.”
And that is why it’s vital for families to learn how much financial aid a college will offer before dismissing the school entirely. The following are a few approaches that may help encourage them to keep their options open.
Net price calculators at our institutions:
- Augsburg College
- Bethany Lutheran College
- Bethel University
- Carleton College
- College of Saint Benedict
- The College of St. Scholastica
- Concordia College, Moorhead
- Concordia University, St. Paul
- Gustavus Adolphus College
- Hamline University
- Macalester College
- Minneapolis College of Art and Design
- Saint John's University
- Saint Mary's University of Minnesota
- St. Catherine University
- St. Olaf College
- University of St. Thomas
Net price calculators
One place to start is with net price calculators. They help families estimate how much aid they might be eligible to receive.
“I always recommend using the net price calculators on college websites to help students and families project the actual vs. ‘sticker’ price of colleges under consideration,” said Lisa Rydeski Pederson, director of college counseling at Mounds Park Academy. “Early on, I find that we can work to develop the college list in a more helpful way once they’ve gotten an idea of what they will be expected to pay.”
Peterson echoed this assessment: “It is important to use net price calculators and talk to financial aid offices before you stop considering a school.”
Free Application for Federal Student Aid
The next step is (unsurprisingly) to complete the FAFSA. Beginning in 2016, the FAFSA could be filed as early as Oct. 1 (instead of Jan. 1) and can pull in the previous tax year’s information to help colleges determine financial aid packages earlier. Students do however still need to apply to the college in order to trigger that estimate; simply applying for aid isn’t enough.
“With the early FAFSA, families in some cases will receive official financial aid packages earlier than in previous years,” Peterson said, “and depending on their college lists, some students will have all admission and financial aid offers to compare earlier in the year. This could enable them to make the final college choice earlier as well.”
It is important to keep in mind that colleges may provide only an estimate of aid until decisions are made at the state and federal level that could impact aid and tuition. When a college sets its tuition for the upcoming year also may have an impact, although many are deciding this earlier, in response to the earlier FAFSA.
Evaluating aid packages
Once a family knows how much financial aid colleges are offering a student, the next step is to compare the packages. Each award letter is a little bit different — and not just in terms of the amount of aid offered. Carly Eichhorst, director of financial aid at St. Olaf College, recommends using a spreadsheet to organize the information. There are many ways you can set up a spreadsheet, but she suggested breaking it down into categories. Here’s one way to do it:
- Cost of attendance: This includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses and transportation. “It is especially important to note that fees vary significantly by institution,” Eichhorst said. She also advised families to research if students are charged a comprehensive tuition rate if they take a specific number of credits or if they are charged a per credit rate.
- Grants and scholarships: Grants typically comes from state and federal governments in the form of need-based aid or from the institution itself, where the aid may be need- or merit-based. Scholarships mostly come from the institution or other private sources. For non-government aid, Eichhorst emphasized that there may be other factors to weigh including a credit enrollment minimum as well as if the aid is renewable and, if so, what the renewal process entails (such as completing the FAFSA).
- Work study: Some colleges will place students in on-campus jobs while others require students to find a job themselves. Families should find out what the average hourly wage is for work-study jobs. This will help them estimate how many hours their student may need to work during a week to earn enough to cover expenses. Eichhorst also recommended that families ask what the average first-year student earns in a year.
- Loans: Families should note whether the student loan amount is subsidized or unsubsidized. “Federal Direct Loan amounts offered will be identical from school to school,” Eichhorst said. “However, the loan may be subsidized at one school and unsubsidized at another.” Families should also pay attention to whether expected parent loans, such as the PLUS loan, are also listed to cover the cost of attendance.
Balancing cost and “fit”
Organizing aid information across colleges will help families truly understand what each college is offering. But Eichhorst points out that while cost is an important consideration, it’s not the only one that families need to factor in. “Once the details on the cost of attending a college are organized, it is much easier to have a real discussion about finding the right college fit.”
And while list prices are higher at our 17 member colleges than at the state’s public institutions, our colleges also award substantially more institutional aid than the publics — nearly $564 million in aid that students never have to pay back. So it pays to factor in financial aid — and to weigh the value of a private college education.
By Lisa Thompson
We have created a number of pieces to help you share information about Minnesota Private College Week with students, including free postcards and flyers. We also provide text and a graphic for your website or newsletter. If you need a different size image or have suggestions for other resources, email us and we’ll see what we can do!
As in previous years, Minnesota Private College Week will have a session in both the morning and afternoon. However, we are slightly adjusting the times based on feedback we received after last year’s event. This year, the morning session will run from 9:30 to noon and the afternoon from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
It can be a challenge to arrange group college visits for your students (and parents) under normal circumstances, but it can be especially hard in the summer when school is out for everyone—including you! Scheduling it during Minnesota Private College Week can alleviate some of those challenges since our 17 colleges are already geared up for visits.
College and career resource center counselors Tara Halvorson (Chaska High School) and Emily Mattran (Chanhassen High School) successfully tackled the challenge and arrange visits during Minnesota Private College Week every year. And we’re pleased to share insights on how to plan and make it work based on what they’ve learned along the way — and shared last fall at the MACAC College Counseling Institute.
Start by considering who you want to take on the visit. The obvious answer is students, but which grades? Can anyone come or are you trying to reach a certain type of student such as students of color, first-generation students or low-income students? Are parents welcome to come along? How many people are you anticipating?
Since Minnesota Private College Week is always the last full week of June, you’ll already have narrowed down the week so all you’ll need to do is pick the day and the session. If you’re planning it at another time during the summer, come up with a few possible days and times.
Next, make a list of the college or colleges are you interested in visiting and don’t be afraid to include a variety of schools to push students outside their comfort zone — big vs. small, rural vs. urban, and so on. Contact each college to find out if it can accommodate a group of your size on the day and time you’d like. If you’re doing it during Minnesota Private College Week, the answer will probably be “yes.” Still, it’s possible a college might have another group coming on the same day and time so it’s a good idea to put out feelers well in advance. Colleges are typically very willing to work with you to find solutions and answers to your questions.
The college also may want a registration list ahead of time that has specific information about the students including what they might want to study in college. Keep this in mind when designing your registration form. (We've also created a group visit sign-up sheet that you can use for Minnesota Private College Week.)
So now you have an idea of who you want to take, when to take them and where you plan to go, but there are a lot of other details to iron out.
How will you pay for transportation costs?
First, check if your district is willing to pay for the busing. If your district has a foundation, consider approaching them as well. If both of those are a no-go, there are a number of other options that you can explore:
- Approach a community association or local businesses to see if any might be willing to chip in some money.
- Apply for a Perkins Career and Technical Education Grant. You can find information and a contact person on the Minnesota Department of Education website.
- Offer it through your community education for a small fee.
Students also may ask if they (or their parent) can drive themselves to the visit rather than riding the bus. Make sure you have an answer prepared.
How will students be chaperoned?
Check if your district will allow you can take days off during the school year to use in the summer. If that’s not an option, you might need to volunteer your time, but you’ll likely need several chaperons unless your group is fairly small. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Can you recruit other school counselors? What about teachers?
- Are other parents available (in addition to any coming along with their student)?
- Are any of your high school alumni who went to one of the colleges you’re visiting willing to help?
How will you handle registrations?
Since you’ll need a parent’s signature, you’ll probably need to use a paper form, but there are a number of other things to consider as well:
- If you’re planning to visit two campuses during the day, do students have to sign up for the entire day? Or can they visit one campus but not the other?
- If you’re planning visits on more than one day, do students have to register for all days or can they pick and choose which days they want to go?
- When do you plan to open registration?
- When do you plan to close registration? When the busses are full?
- Will you keep a wait list?
The final logistics
Once registration closes, confirm the registration with students, especially if it’s right at the end of the school year. Then follow up the week before the visit is scheduled to make sure their plans haven’t changed. This is very important if you have a wait list. If you are concerned students will register but not show up on the day of the visit, you could require a deposit to show their commitment to coming and then refund the amount when they do. This could, however, be a deterrent to low-income families so weigh this option carefully.
Also keep in mind that colleges often will not pay for lunch so make sure that students know to bring money or a bag lunch with them. And it’s a good idea for you to plan to bring a supply of water on the bus.
Be sure to have a list of questions that student should ask for the day of the visit. They probably won’t think of this on their own.
And perhaps most importantly, be flexible. Things sometimes don’t go as planned the day of the visit. Maybe it’s the weather that isn’t cooperating or maybe the bus driver simply insists on dropping you off at a different spot on campus that you planned. Being able to “wing” such circumstances will make the visit less stressful for everyone.
Although Minnesota Private College Week is intended to serve as an early introductory visit, it can also help families learn how campus visits work so that they can schedule a personal one on their own.
And if scheduling during Minnesota Private College Week (or any time during the summer) simply doesn’t work, consider other times during the school year, including campus open houses, MEA break or even spring break.
By Lisa Thompson
In 2014, Mirna Serrano began her college studies at St. Catherine University. She felt overwhelmed with the typical decisions and choices that confront most first-year students. Being as a first-generation student made that more challenging because her parent were unable to provide guidance. But Mirna found an outlet to channel what she learned in the process to help other student like her and launched the First Generation Scholars League (FSGL) student club. Read more about Mirna’s efforts.
Did you know that our colleges offer many summer camp options on campus during the summer? From athletic to academic, there’s something to appeal to almost any student — and parent. Plus getting students on a campus is also a great way to help them see college as part of their future. Please share our list of summer programs with parents to help them plan for the summer.
Auggie joins advisory board for First Lady Michelle Obama’s college opportunity campaign
Augsburg College student Kitana Holland will guide Better Make Room, a national campaign that celebrates education and elevates the voices of Gen-Z students.
Bethel's Model UN Club wins awards at international conference
Four Bethel University students won awards for their simulation of real-world diplomacy at the American Model United Nations (AMUN) International Conference in November.
Scoville Library history uncovered — literally
Contractors working on Carleton College's Scoville renovation project made a cool discovery, revealing the signatures of some of the original builders of the iconic campus landmark.
$10 million gift to the College of Saint Benedict to create Center for Ethical Leadership in Action
The anonymous gift will create a permanent endowment fund at the College of Saint Benedict and fund the operations of the Center, including experiential learning, a mentoring program and a speaker series.
St. Scholastica online master of education earns high rankings
The College of St. Scholastica's online master of education program is named one of the top 50 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report's new 2017 online program rankings.
Concordia named a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly University
Concordia College (Moorhead) was named a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists.
Gustavus wins inaugural Minnesota College Ballot Bowl
Sixty-three percent of Gustavus Adolphus College students registered to vote to win the Minnesota Secretary of State's first-ever Ballot Bowl.
Hamline alumnus Jack Serier appointed Ramsey County sheriff
New Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier '90 replaces fellow Hamline University alumnus Sheriff Matt Bostrom, DPA '03, who will retire to continue research at the University of Oxford.
Macalester professor offers ways to achieve financial success in the New Year
WalletHub asked experts what the best New Year’s resolutions were for achieving financial improvement, and Macalester College professor Christina Manning was one of them.
New photovoltaic solar field to increase energy production to Saint John’s and community
The three solar fields combined on 27 acres will provide almost 19 percent of Saint John's University annual electric power needs.
Saint Mary’s recognized nationally for community service project
The “Jogging For Jack Superhero 5K” recently earned national attention when Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota was honored as part of the NADIIIAA/Jostens Community Service Awards.
Taylor Harwood ’15 receives prestigious Marshall Scholarship
As a Marshall Scholar, St. Catherine University’s Taylor Harwood ’15 will pursue two graduate degrees in London, with the ultimate goal of becoming an archivist.
Tommie helps parathlete make her run at Rio
It started with a post on the University of St. Thomas Facebook page looking for someone to guide a blind runner.
Interested in more campus news? View past news items.
Here are some of the best recent articles that we’ve come across:
Conquering the confusing common app: These tips will help
The Hechinger Report, Dec. 9, 2016
What is college really for?
Huffington Post, Jan. 4, 2017
The surprising reason why liberal arts majors make the best techies
LinkedIn Pulse, Jan. 4, 2017
How to fill out the FAFSA when you have more than one child in college
U.S. Department of Education, Jan. 12, 2017
What to do when your dream school says, 'I'm not that into you'
Forbes, Jan. 25, 2017
Business is the most popular college major, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice
Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2017