What does college cost? How does financial aid work?

There are a couple of questions that might seem to be easily answered. Not. So. I continue to be amazed at how complicated the answers are.

Fortunately, given the Net Price Calculators, more transparency has been shed on the net price for colleges. They’re not perfect, nor universally clear, but they are better than what was available before and I hope they continue to improve with use and feedback.

The calculators have the potential to help high school students and parents understand the difference between a college’s sticker — or advertised — price and its net price — after grants, work-study, and the Expected Family Contribution have been factored in.

A couple of recent posts helped to point out background information on both of these questions.

First from Suzanne Shaffer at Parents Countdown to College Coach, here’s advice to ignore the sticker price and an infographic for explanation: see College Sticker Price. I’m including a screenshot of a portion of the infographic; click the link to see the full image.

via Parents Countdown to College Coach

Next, from Murray Miller at Student Advisor, 7 Surprising Financial Aid Facts That Could Save You Thousands. I’m listing the facts below; click on the link for more information on each point.

  1. Some colleges have more to give than others.
  2. High sticker price colleges can cost less than “cheaper” state schools.
  3. “Forgotten middle class” families receive generous grants, scholarships and other financial aid.
  4. Grades have little to do with financial aid awards.
  5. Two families can have the same amount saved — but one will receive far more financial aid because of where they saved.
  6. Graduation rates differ — more than you realize.
  7. The financial aid office may not be your best resource…

Finally, I thought I would offer some of the clearest advice I’ve seen. It was a newspaper article tweeted by @Scorebusters near the end of the year, titled “Three tips to reduce the cost of college.” Unfortunately the article has disappeared behind a paywall. Here are the tips:

  1. Focus on academics
  2. Maximize aid
  3. Finish on time

Right. There you go, Pete:  a new family mantra.

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