College Financial Aid Advice: How-To Pay For College And Remain Debt-Free, Or Close To It

How I helped a recent client put together a financial and merit-based aid for college to alleviate much of the financial burden and even go to college debt-free.

There’s no doubt, college can be a huge expense for students and their families. The cost of attending college has increased by nearly 80 percent in the last 10 years, according to the Dept. of Labor. Finding ways to mitigate those costs is key.

Below is the full ticket price for a year’s tuition at the top 12 ranked college according to U.S. News and World Report. Don’t forget to add in room and board, text books, laptop, and other necessary expenses.

2016 Tuition Rates

Princeton: $45,540
Yale: $46,500
Harvard: $45,278
Stanford: $45,729
Columbia: $53,000
MIT: $46,400

UChicago: $50,997
Caltech: $45,390
Brown: $50,224
Dartmouth: $48,120
UPenn: $51,464
Vanderbilt: $43,620

You may be shocked by the sticker price; however, there’s no need to take extreme measures just yet. Instead, consider how I helped a recent client put together a financial and merit-based aid for college to alleviate much of the financial burden and even go to college debt-free.

Case Study

Finding financial and merit-based aid for college

Building a strong application for merit-based ad is critical for today’s student as is targeting schools with comprehensive financial aid offerings. One of my current clients, a dedicated young woman and the first from her family to attend college in America—has managed to do both of these things. Here are some tips we recommend at Stratus Prep to increase your financial and merit-based aid potential and how they worked for her.

1. Apply to 8-10 schools. You want to keep your options open—even if it is fewer than eight schools, don’t apply to just one place.  If application cost is an issue for you then many colleges will waive the application fee when requested. Additionally, your high school may provide you with an application fee waiver depending on your family income.

My client, let’s call her “Sarah” to protect her privacy and based in California, applied to 8-10 schools around the country. As we build her list based on her academic plans, as well as her geographic, community and extracurricular preferences, we made sure that they included schools like Vanderbilt, Rice, UChicago, and Duke—who all made the U.S. News list of top ten schools with the most generous financial aid packages.

2. Don’t let cost keep you from applying to Elite Universities. Sarah also applied to several Ivy League universities, including Harvard. Over 60% of Harvard students receive financial aid in the form of grants. Also every single Ivy League University now offers complete tuition remission for families with yearly incomes of less than $60-125k. Where the exact required family income falls within the range depends on the specific school. However, even if you do not meet the income requirements for total tuition remission, the range for partial tuition remission extends well beyond these numbers.

3. Study hard and get the best grades you can achieve. All of the schools with the top 10 most generous financial aid departments are in the top 50 schools in the U.S. Therefore, in a certain way, the better the school’s academic reputation, the lower the cost to its students for attendance. However, in order to safely apply to these elite schools with a reasonable expectation of admittance, my client had to have a very competitive high school GPA, solid standardized test scores, and, most importantly, an excellent application package—that included several well-written essays and great teacher recommendations.

Better grades also position you very well for merit-based scholarships. Top grades and test scores open the door to competitive academic scholarships. These are available both from the schools themselves as well as businesses and community organizations.

4. Get specific. Sarah also applied to schools within her home state system. Residing in California, this meant UCs. While still excellent schools with very strong academic departments they have less competitive requirements for grades and test scores than Ivy League schools.  They also provide in-state tuition for residents, which can greatly reduce the cost of attendance. It can also potentially afford the opportunity for the student to live at home for a year or two while attending—further defraying school cost.

Sarah didn’t stop with in-state schools. She also applied to a merit scholarship at each specific UC and to scholarships within the department she planned to major, Biology.  Furthermore, at Stratus Prep we have excellent resources to recommend for additional private scholarships where students can apply.

Due to these steps and her diligent work in and out of the classroom, she ended up earning admission and a merit scholarship offer for full tuition to the University of Southern California.  She has also earned a number of other admission offers. As part of her consulting package with Stratus Prep we will help her to negotiate further financial aid offers and ultimately weigh all of her options in order to decide the best choice for her.

Interested in learning more about how Stratus Prep can increase your chances of admission to your top-choice university?

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