HomeArticlesCollege Sticker Shock Stuns Parents

Question. Our daughter’s excellent high school record and outstanding SAT scores have gained her acceptance to Bryn Mawr, University of Pennsylvania, Miami of Ohio plus several prestigious schools in the northeast and south. Proud of her accomplishments, we assured her she could attend any school she wanted, if accepted. Late April she indicated that Bryn Mawr was her dream school and sent in her acceptance. We, her parents, have been so consumed with her success that we have paid little attention to what it will cost to send her to college for four years. At Bryn Mawr the grand total exceeds $160,000. Locally, at our public university the cost would probably be around $50,000. We have some savings set aside for her and her grandfather has offered to ante up $5,000 a year but how do we make up the difference? We don’t want to deny her but definitely are in a difficult position. – P.G., Denver

Answer. You did not mention what type of financial aid package Bryn Mawr has offered your daughter. That should be the initial step in examining how costly your college bill would actually be. College tuition is like buying a car; very few students pay the “sticker” price. “The published price bears so little relationship to the price you’re going to pay,” says Sandy Baum, senior policy analyst for the College Board. “The schools that have the highest prices often have the most financial aid available.” Those with inflated prices often give back a substantial amount in merit aid. The average student typically receives about $10,000 in grant money, which brings down tuition considerably. Grants represent nearly half of all aid, the rest being loans, work programs and education tax benefits. However, schools have different policies on how they distribute aid. Bryn Mawr, for example, distributes need-based aid only ; some schools allot additional need-based funding to the students with the most merit but needy. Go figure it out.

Let’s review your dilemma. Have you done the basics? The Profile and FAFSA forms, were they completed several months ago? Without them, your eligibility for any institutional or government money virtually vanishes. It’s too late for the Profile, but go online immediately to WWW.FAFSA.GOV, with your 2014 income tax in hand, and complete the FAFSA, the singularly most important document for federal financial aid. If you have completed these two forms and have received a financial aid package from Bryn Mawr and the other schools, which accepted your daughter, ask for an explanation of their package. You might mention the type of package you received from the University of Pennsylvania. Remember, Bryn Mawr gives very little merit aid reserving monies primarily for need-based.

Other possibilities include doing a scholarship search outside the university, parent loans from the bank, and at this late date, consider one of the most overlooked sources of funds, tap into your home’s equity.

For all parents, just a reminder that May of the senior year is far too late to contemplate how to pay the college bill. Savings for college should begin early; in fact right after your child is born. Paying for college requires good financial information and savvy parents. With college costs increasing yearly, the process can seem overwhelming; good planning can eliminate sticker shock.

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