The Bottom Line: Why College VALUE and PRICE are suddenly bigger than prestige

by Deb Coco on January 22, 2016

It’s one of the things that make working in the world of college admissions so interesting; each year is different.  It seems that no two admissions cycles are the same and when we gathered as coaches to reflect on what was unique to this past year, a common thread was woven through each of our experiences . . . affordability.

This was the first year that I heard students use the words “value, cost, and financial aid” BEFORE their parents mentioned it.  It was astounding, and was proof that the pendulum really has swung to the point where cost and value matter more to some families than prestige.  Of course, this does not apply to every family.  There are always those who can afford the brand name colleges and who feel it is important to attend one.  However, more and more of our clients are placing higher importance on cost.  And is it any wonder?  The cost of a four year undergraduate education continues to rise, even as salaries do not.  Many parents are looking at an education for each child that may exceed $250,000 and many will not see any financial aid.  Even public schools have eclipsed the $100,000 mark.  So what is a family to do when facing the second biggest expense in their lives?  First, hire a qualified and experienced college admissions consultant so you understand how the world of college financial aid works.  It is important to not rely on your financial advisor or accountant for this advice; college admissions aid is a world unto itself.

When we meet with families at the beginning of our process, a financial aid analysis is one of the first bases we cover.  Application time is NOT when you want to address whether or not you’ll qualify for need based aid; it should be calculated when your student is in their junior year of high school or you may head down a very expensive path.  We help our families understand not just if they will qualify but what it means if indeed they do not.  We also calculate their ability to pay to the dollar, so they will know exactly what each college will expect them to contribute.  We then discuss whether or not their student is a prospect for merit based scholarships.  This can greatly reduce loan burden but it’s important to isolate which schools WILL give your student scholarships.  Many colleges offer no merit scholarships, so it’s important to understand that well before your child applies.  It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s true.  Nonetheless, there are still some amazing values out there.   I have three daughters who are proof.

We often have parents tell us that they have already used the net price calculator on a college website to calculate their EFC (Expected Family Contribution).  But we cannot stress enough that these calculators are notoriously inaccurate.  One of the biggest values we offer to families navigating this often overwhelming process is helping them get a clear picture of the finances involved in college admissions.  It is not black and white, and by understanding it before your student falls in love with a college you clearly cannot afford, you will save time, money and aggravation by tackling the money first.  After all, the bottom line for many families now is “can we afford it?” and students are beginning to be on board with the understanding that loan debt is NOT something you want when they hand you your college diploma.

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