My daughter Abby applied to college this year and as the acceptance letters start coming in, we're getting to the stage of choosing a school. Of course, we're thinking about important factors like education, quality of life and location; however, like most parents, we also have to consider cost.
Our interest in getting the best financial support possible from the best school for Abby helped me discover a way of potentially lowering college tuition by a significant amount. I'm passionate about educating people on these topics, so I'm excited to share my personal experience with you. Read on -- it could save you tens of thousands of dollars!
After we narrowed the list of potential schools down to a handful of favorites, we began to look seriously at the costs of each one. We were grateful that Abby was awarded a fairly large merit scholarship from two universities, so now, I had a benchmark. I decided to contact the admissions departments of the other universities to find out if they would award additional merit money, or, for the ones that didn't offer anything, if they would consider doing so.
I discovered that each school is totally different. One university very nicely told me that they don't adjust their merit scholarship offers. A second, who had awarded Abby a $7,000 scholarship, walked me through their very simple appeals process, in which you can ask to be reconsidered for a higher award (as of right now we are waiting to hear back from them). Another school, which didn't send an offer, explained that because of a change in policy, they were only sending out acceptance letters now. If Abby was awarded a merit scholarship, we'd find out in a couple of weeks, and the advisor hinted that we should call back in March if she didn't receive an award in the first round.
Finally, a fourth phone call led me to an admissions director's voicemail, which suggested sending an email. So, I sent an email explaining that this university was one of our top choices, but that we were looking carefully at cost and had been offered more generous awards from other schools.
I never could have guessed what would happen next.
On the same day, I received a reply saying that they had reviewed the application again... and would now like to offer Abby a $14,000 annual merit scholarship, as long as she maintained a 3.0 GPA.
We were very happy, to say the least: From one email, we could potentially save $56,000 in tuition over the course of Abby's education, or 25 percent in tuition and living expenses. This is financial planning at its best -- though of course, keeping in perspective the high cost of college these days.
The Lesson: Don't Be Afraid To Ask!
Generally speaking, the best way to receive a generous merit scholarship award is through scholastic achievements. This usually means that your child is in the upper percentiles of his or her class, maintains a high GPA and has strong ACT or SAT scores. The quality of the school also matters -- if you applied to an Ivy League, your merit awards might look very different than they would if you applied to a third-tier school. Every university is different and has its own internal policies in awarding scholarships.
However, don't be the judge and jury on whether your child will be able to receive a merit scholarship! You should always try: Universities look very hard at their overall ranking and have every reason to attract students who will make them look good.
To put it another way, it was recently said to me, "Before you are accepted, you want them; after you're accepted, they want you." In other words, don't be afraid to ask! You just might find that a university will do an awful lot to get your child into their freshman class.
So, once you've been accepted and you're in the process of selecting a school for your child, send an email or make a phone call to ask about additional awards: You could get more -- a lot more -- than what was initially offered.
How Do You Do It?
Who do you contact? I just looked at the offer letter and tried to reach the person who signed it. You can also go to Collegeboard and look up the admissions directors at the different universities you've applied to. In some cases, I was able to speak directly with this person, and in others I was transferred to an admissions counselor or other advisor who handles recruitment in our area.
I feel it's important to emphasize that every single person I spoke with in this process was incredibly gracious and willing to help -- so don't get deterred by thinking you're doing something wrong! Admissions departments are equipped and ready to handle these types of questions and seem to always be staffed by genuinely nice people who are looking to make the process easier.
Spread The Word
I wanted to share this story because I was amazed by how powerful a few phone calls (and one email) could be for our financial planning over the coming years. I would love for more people to know about this, and I hope you can benefit from my experience. If you found this article to be helpful and feel others can benefit too, feel free to pass it along.
Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to hear more about how I went about this. I'd also love to hear about any success stories!
Average tuition and fees for in-state student: ,022 in 2011-12 Increased: 20.5% from a year prior and 98.3% from five years prior <br> The worst could be yet to come for students in California's public universities. If California residents vote against state tax increases in the November elections, the school system will have to come up with money fast to fill the 5 million budget gap that would ensue, says Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for the University of California's Office of the President, which is the headquarters for the 10 UC campuses. Under that scenario, tuition could rise 20.3% for the second semester of the upcoming academic year. Much of California's growing college-cost burden has been placed on out-of-state students. The 10 most expensive campuses for out-of-state students in the U.S. are all in California, where tuition, fees, room and board in total ran up to roughly ,000 last year, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education. Klein says that despite the rising costs, overall applications to the UC system are going up; she also says that because of the system's financial aid programs, about half of all UC undergrads pay no tuition.
Average tuition and fees for in-state student: ,428 in 2011-12 Increased: 16.8% from a year prior and 101.7% from five years prior <br> Since 2008, Arizona's public universities have laid off faculty and staff and eliminated academic programs in order to make ends meet. This year, state funding will total 8 million, compared with nearly .1 billion for the 2007-08 academic year, says Katie Paquet, spokeswoman for the Arizona Board of Regents. As tuition costs have risen, the largest universities in the state have rolled out lower-cost ways that students can attain a Bachelor's degree. This fall, Arizona State University will open a new campus in Lake Havasu City, where annual tuition for state residents will cost ,000, nearly 40% less than at its campus in Tempe. Also, Arizona's largest universities -- ASU, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University -- are offering students who transfer from community colleges a lower-cost way to complete their Bachelor's degree; in some cases, students will be charged the cost of tuition during their freshman year in community college rather than the tuition the four-year school charges when they enter it. "Our goal is to provide more options to students across the state at varying price points," says Paquet. Separately, for the first time in two decades, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona have frozen tuition for in-state undergraduate students for the upcoming academic year. Tuition for out-of-state students will rise by roughly 3%.
Average tuition and fees for in-state student: ,808 in 2011-12 Increased: 15.9% from a year prior and 74.2% from five years prior <br> Beyond tuition hikes, Georgia college students are also facing cutbacks to a popular state scholarship program. Last year, the state reduced the amount of money it doled out to students through its merit-based Hope Scholarship, amid concerns that the program was underfunded. The program, which used to cover 100% of tuition costs at the state's public colleges for qualifying students, covered roughly 87% last year; this year, as tuition continues to rise, the scholarship will cover 81% to 85% of costs in the university system. The state is also looking at cutting direct funding to higher education. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal recently proposed a million cut through June 2014, which if enacted would reduce spending over that period to roughly .7 billion. A decision is expected early next year. John Millsaps, spokesman for the University System of Georgia, says public institutions have had to shift much of the cost burden onto students as state funding dwindles. Over the past seven years, state funding went from covering 75% of the cost of educating students to 50%, he says.
Average tuition and fees for in-state student: ,484 in 2011-12 Increased: 15.7% from a year prior and 67.3% from five years prior<br> Unlike most states, Washington doesn't have an individual income tax; instead, it relies on sales taxes for much of its revenue. Income from that source slumped during the recession, leaving the state with less money to go around. To make up for the shortfall, the state granted permissions to its public universities to raise tuition, and students have felt the impact: Six years ago, it cost roughly ,700 on average for an in-state student to attend a public college in Washington. That's hovering around ,000 this year. In June, the University of Washington announced a 16% increase in tuition and fees for the upcoming year, following a 20% increase last year. The state is covering just 30% of the cost of educating its students, the lowest share ever, says Norm Arkans, a spokesman for the University of Washington. He says the institution's relatively low tuition and fees provided some leeway to raise costs, but adds that the strategy isn't sustainable in the long term.
Average tuition and fees for in-state student: ,044 in 2011-12 Increased: 13.7% from a year prior and 65.8% from five years prior <br> Few students have been immune to tuition spikes in Nevada. During the five academic years ending this past spring, Nevada raised tuition and fees at its community colleges by 48% on average, one of the highest increases in the country, according to the College Board. Costs at four-year public colleges rose 66% over the same period. And midway through the last academic year, the state approved an 8% tuition increase for all undergrads, which will kick in this fall. Still, despite the increases, the cost to attend a public college in Nevada remains lower than the national average, says Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education.
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