If it’s Wednesday, this must be Wesleyan. Families around the country are touring colleges during spring break, some visiting a dozen or more schools in search of that perfect college. While gleaming new science buildings, low faculty to student ratios and beautifully landscaped campuses may be enticing, finding a good college fit also means looking at affordability.
The most selective, wealthy institutions often provide generous need-based financial aid. But very few schools have the resources to meet full need. And at a time when tuition, room and board at a private college can add up to more than $65,000 a year, cost is a major concern even for families that don’t qualify for need-based aid.
The good news is that there are ways to bring down the cost of college. Most schools offer merit-based aid, also known as scholarships. Every year, I see many students receive offers of $15,000 to $25,000 a year. Some schools will consider leadership and service, but these offers are generally based on a student’s academic record and test scores. It’s important to target colleges that offer substantial merit aid, and you need to be in the top of the applicant pool to receive the biggest scholarships.
If you live in a region that has a tuition reciprocity arrangement, you may be able to attend a public university in a nearby state without paying full nonresident tuition. Qualifying students in California pay 150% of in-state tuition at participating public institutions through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program. Some students are paying less than $10,000 a year in tuition at these schools.
There are also colleges that have a lower cost of attendance. They may offer less need-based aid and smaller scholarships but charge lower tuition for all students. They may be located in parts of the country where expenses are lower and that’s reflected in the cost of attendance. They may be public institutions that want to attract out of state students and keep their nonresident tuition relatively low.
It may take some research to find them, but there are affordable options for all students.