Keep your options open by finding the real cost of college
A myriad of factors will go into choosing where your child goes to college — which majors are offered, the career services available and so on. But one factor is going to almost always be at play: cost. Given that, ensure you understand the impact of financial aid before eliminating a college based on what you think the cost will be.
“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’s why it’s important to learn how much financial aid your child may be eligible to receive before you narrow down your list of college options. Here’s how.
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
Use net price calculators
A good place to begin is with net price calculators. Each college is required to have one on its website, and it can give a more realistic idea of what the school actually costs — the net price — after grants and scholarships are factored in.
“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.”
Be sure to involve your child in the process of figuring out net price. Not only can it help inform which colleges you child chooses to apply to, but it can lead to a candid discussion of how to and who will cover that cost. And you don’t need to wait until senior year begin the conversation or to try out net price calculators. The earlier you know what your college bill might be, the longer you have to plan for ways to pay for it.
Apply for financial aid
First off: Never assume you won’t qualify of any financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) isn’t just used to award financial aid from the federal government. States (including Minnesota) use it to determine eligibility for state student aid programs, and many colleges use it to help figure out who should receive institutional aid. If you don’t fill out the FAFSA, you’re literally leaving money on the table.
The FAFSA can now be filed as early as October 1, and it can pull in the previous tax year’s information. That means that colleges can send out an estimated financial aid package to admitted students much earlier than before. But keep in mind that a college will not provide that estimate until AFTER your child has applied to the college. Make sure you keep track of financial aid deadlines in addition to admissions application deadlines for each college. View the list we’ve compiled for all our colleges.
It’s worth noting our colleges award substantially more institutional aid than the Minnesota’s public institutions — nearly $564 million in aid that students never have to pay back.
Review your aid packages
If you child applied to and was accepted at more than one college, then you likely received just as many financial aid awarded letters. They all probably look a little bit different, so how do you compare them? 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 it up, but she suggested breaking it down into categories. For example, you could break it down by cost of attendance, grants and scholarships, work study and loans. (If you prefer an online tool, try out the compare aid calculator from the College Board., You can save the information you enter if you already have an account.)
Here are a few other things to consider:
- Does the college charge a comprehensive tuition rate if your child takes a specific number of credits or does it charge per credit?
- Are there any student college-specific fees not listed that you need to factor into the overall cost?
- If your child is offered non-government aid, does it require your child to be enrolled for a minimum number of credits? Is it renewable? How does your child renew it each year?
- If work study is part of the aid package, will the college help your child find a job? What is the average hourly wage for work-study jobs? How much does the average first-year student earn during the academic year?
- If a Federal Direct Loan is part of the aid package, is it subsidized or unsubsidized?
- Are any parent loans, such as the PLUS loan, listed to cover the cost of attendance?
Find a balance
Once you’ve compared and contrasted the aid packages, you then need to factor in which college is the right fit for your child — because if your child struggles or is miserable, it won’t matter if the college is cheaper or offered more aid. So talk and work with your child to re-identify what is most important in a college and then weigh that against what you are expected to pay.