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Rose Murphy: Finding a financial fit college

What factors should a student look at when investigating colleges?

Size, major, location, extracurricular activities, athletics, academic profile and religious affiliation are important. However, financial friendliness is often overlooked until later in the process. Financial fit should be evaluated before acceptance and award letters roll in. An absence of upfront pricing can make the task daunting. However, a little time at the beginning of the process, noting the appropriate factors, will ensure that your child has schools on their list that will fit them financially, as well as academically and socially.

An excellent measure of tuition affordability is to complete a net price calculator. Universities are required to provide net price calculators on their websites. This makes it easier to estimate the amount of money a family will pay (including loans) to cover the cost of college. Using a net price calculator, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), will be estimated. This is the amount a family will pay out of pocket, after grants and loans. Colleges use the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile to determine what the EFC will be. The actual financial aid and net cost depend on the school’s resources and enrollment goals in the year in which you apply.



In-state public colleges, like California State Universities, tend to be the best 4-year cost option. However, depending on family need and the support of the aid at an institution, private institutions can also be affordable. The sticker price is not the only factor to review. An excellent resource for more financial aid tips is: https://finaid.org.

College Scorecard, ( https://collegescorecard.ed.gov ), a US Department of Education site, lists factors that are important to review when finding financially friendly institutions. Schools can be searched by name, location, size or degree. One important factor, need met, indicates the percentage of students who had their financial need fully met. Not all colleges equally meet the gap. Gift aid indicates the percentages of students who received merit-based gift aid, as well as how much they received. Most commonly, gift aid is awarded when test scores, grades and extracurriculars of the student are above the college standard. Self-help aid shows the percentage of students who receive loans and work-study awards as well as the average amounts of aid given. Debt shows the average indebtedness of recent graduates. Also, research the time to graduate for each institution. College costs greatly increase if extra years are needed to graduate.




Be sure to review the top GPA and test scores of the most recent freshman class. The closer a student is to the average accepted student, the more likely they will be to receive generous aid. Compare the data for freshmen gift aid after freshman year. Many institutions will reduce the aid after the first year.

Career fields vary in income earned. It is advisable to check the projected earning potential in the chosen major or career field. This will enable the student to determine if that salary will support re-paying loans. Average student loan debt, upon graduation, can also be found at CollegeScorecard.

For the University of California system, The “Middle Class Scholarship Program” is available to families whose income and household assets are $184,000 per year. The scholarship will help pay for up to 40% of tuition and fees at a UC. The “Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan” ensures that a family who makes less than $80,000 per year will not have to pay out-of-pocket tuition. If a family has sufficient need, the student may qualify for additional grant aid. To apply for these programs a family would need to complete the FAFSA before March 2 of the senior year.

Community College is also a cost-saving path. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation to allow for the California College Promise Program. Not all of the over 100 community colleges in CA use the Promise money to waive tuition, however, our local Sierra Community College offers 2-years of free tuition if a student chooses to enroll full time and completes the FAFSA. The guaranteed transfer program streamlines the process of obtaining a four-year college degree.

Families can check out Fastweb.com or GoingMerry.com. These are free scholarship websites that offer funds that will not need to be paid back. Students can find many free scholarship opportunities. Be aware of scholarship scams that ask for money.

There is much to absorb when it comes to financing a college degree. With pre-planning, online tools and weighing options, one can find not only social and academic fits, but a comfortable financial fit as well.

Rose Murphy is a retired high school counselor now working as an independent educational consultant. She can be reached at abestfitcollege@gmail.com or abestfitcollege.com

 


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