A Few Tips to Make College More Affordable

The Miami Herald

Miami Herald Staff and Wire Reports
October 26, 2008

To improve your ability to pay for college, consider the following strategies:

Apply to many schools to increase the number of financial aid offers you receive. Some schools will sweeten aid packages to snag admitted students. “We recommend kids apply to 10 schools, so they get accepted to three or four schools. That’s going to increase their financial aid options,” said Dave Kenney, chief executive officer of CollegeZapps, a Littleton, Colo.-based provider of college application tools.

Don’t rule out private colleges. Their tuition costs are steep, but these schools often have more ability than state schools to offer scholarships or tap endowment funds to help students, Kenney said. The Ivy League, for example, doles out aid based on need, rather than merit. Some, such as Princeton University, make sure their students have enough financial aid that they don’t have to take out loans.

“Don’t let the sticker price deter you from applying,” said Katherine Cohen, CEO of IvyWise.com, an online college-admission counseling service. “Higher-price colleges offer bigger aid packages.”

Find ways to graduate in three years, like taking AP exams during high school that provide college credit, Cohen said.

Talk to family members. Grandparents are often willing to help with a gift or loan. Set up a savings plan and ask for matching contributions. Talk to the financial aid office. School financial aid officers have a good handle on available grants, scholarships and loans. Once a school offers admission, it’s invested a chunk of money so will usually want to help figure out financing. Also, ask your student’s high school about local scholarships, and your employer, too. But be aware that those may reduce the aid package offered by a school.

Seek federal loans first. They’re more available and generally cheaper. Meanwhile, improve parents’ and student’s credit scores by paying down debt to help ensure you’re eligible for the lowest rates if you need a private loan with a co-signer.

If your circumstances change, ask for more. Most need-based financial aid awards are based primarily on prior-year family income. If a family breadwinner loses a job, many colleges will try to adjust their aid awards.

Apply now but take a year to work and save if your budget won’t stretch. Most colleges will allow admitted students to defer attendance for a year, IvyWise’s Cohen said.

Sources: Marketwatch, Associated Press, Miami Herald Staff Writer Andres Viglucci.