Choosing Where to Apply Based On Your Financial Situation

If money is in shortage in your household, you need to be strategic on where you choose to apply to College. That’s a simple sentence for a complex process, but I will break it down.

Pixabay JugglingOne thing that you may have had drilled into your head (certainly something I drilled into my kids’ heads) is that you need to get good grades in High School so you can go to a good College. This may be a double-edged sword, if your family can’t afford to pay for your College education, which is why you must consider your financial situation. I will repeat once again, DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN to avoid paying for College with student loans. Those payments will haunt you for YEARS after you graduate and may reek havoc with your credit rating. Students loans now exceed credit card debt in the US, and those loans have an incredibly high default rate, meaning a lot of students are unable to pay back their loans, which is very stressful and hurts their credit rating. A bad credit rating makes it hard to buy your first home or maybe even get a job, as many businesses are now checking applicants’ credit ratings. The double-edged sword is that DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU APPLY, good grades may qualify you for more financial aid and more merit money, but then again, it might qualify you for more financial aid but no merit money, or more merit money, but little-to-no financial aid. In this post, I refer to highly selective Colleges, which is a generic term. When I say highly selective, I mean Colleges who generally accept less than 15% of it’s applicants.

Colleges with Large Endowments

Colleges with Large Endowments

  1. Financial Aid – highly selective Colleges
    1. Highly selective Colleges have large endowments which often mean more generous financial aid.  Many selective Colleges will also emphasize that they consider their applicants “need-blind”. This means that while your application goes to the Admissions Office for consideration, your financial forms are sent to the College’s financial aid office, so that Admissions can decide whether to admit you regardless of your financial need. Here’s the catch – those highly selective Colleges are extremely hard to get into – better grades and test scores help your case, but even exceptional students who apply to a highly selective college have a low chance of acceptance.
      1. The Colleges with Large Endowments spreadsheet illustrates how large endowments often mean not only that more students qualify for financial aid (for example, Stanford University states that most students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year will likely qualify for free tuition), but also that all or most of your financial need will be met. Note that the spreadsheet is ranked in the order of the Endowment Per Student, because large universities may have substantial endowments that don’t add up to much, if you compare the size of the endowment to the number of students. My methodology for finding these Colleges means there may be other Colleges with a large endowment per student that is not included in this spreadsheet.
      2. The consequence of both financial and merit money is that a) some private Colleges may cost you less than public Colleges and b) many students with financial need AND good grades and test scores apply to highly selective Colleges. While it may be hard to get in, if you do get in, you are in a very good financial position. But you have fierce competition.
  2. Financial Aid – less selective Colleges
    1. Pixabay Gold Bars

      Some Colleges Run Out of Financial Aid Money

      Colleges with less money in their coffers often can’t afford to meet all of a student’s financial need; they often make up the difference with student loans.

    2. Their standards for who qualifies for financial aid are often more stringent than more selective Colleges.
    3. This is why it is important to apply as early as you are ready, because as Colleges use up their financial aid budget, they will be less generous with their financial aid. The early bird is more likely to get the worm!
  3. Merit Money – highly Selective Colleges
    Good grades and test scores often mean more merit money, but that is often not the case at highly selective colleges. Merit money is generally used by Colleges to woo exceptional applicants. But if you are a highly selective/desirable College such as Princeton, Yale or Columbia, for example, you don’t need to woo those applicants – they come to you in great numbers. That’s why you will see many selective Colleges offer little to no merit money.
  4. Merit Money – less selective Colleges
    This is where you can really make an impact on the amount of tuition you pay. All students should be considering a wide-range of Colleges, in terms of selectivity. The so-called “Safety” “Target” and “Reach” schools. If you have a strong academic resume, some of those schools will likely be generous in their merit money. They are wooing you to increase their perceived selectivity. How do you find those schools? Check out the post Finding Colleges with Generous Financial and/or Merit Money.
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