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Jill Haley: Cut the cost of college

Jill Haley
Special to The Union
Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

It may be a surprise to many families, that the cost of college is not unlike the price of airline tickets. Prices vary. But how can your family find the best deal when looking at the total cost of college?

Here are a few tips.

Some of your best deals can be found at colleges that are off “the rankings radar.” The more popular and highly ranked a school is, the more they can charge. Highly ranked schools are often great with need-based aid, but give little or no merit aid.

Merit aid is awarded to students with high GPA’s, test scores, or talents, regardless of their income. You don’t have to be an “A plus” student either, many colleges set their GPA at 3.0 for academic awards.

Single-sex colleges struggle to meet their enrollment goals, and are generous with aid. Mills College in Oakland offers great financial aid packages to their all female population. Wabash (males only) is known for their great merit awards.

Small, private liberal arts colleges have large sticker prices, but only 53% of their students pay full price. At Willamette University in Oregon, almost all students receive a tuition discount.

Look at each college’s website for their net price calculator. This will let you know what you can expect to pay based on your income, assets, and your student’s academics. The total cost of attendance will vary from college to college. Check out colleges located away from both coasts and large cities. There are many beautiful, highly academic colleges located in the Midwest and the South. Many of these offer significant financial aid discounts. At Beloit College in Wisconsin, the average merit aid award is $19,000.

Public colleges outside of California offer discounts through their Western Undergraduate Exchange program (WUE). The University of New Mexico and Western Washington University have excellent honors programs and discounted tuition to students with strong academic records.

Financial aid is not automatic — students apply for financial aid by filling out forms. File the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) as close to Jan. 1, 2016 as you can. Many families assume they will not be eligible for financial aid, when in fact they just might be. This is especially true at private colleges.

Some colleges require students who receive merit aid, not need based, to file the FAFSA. Federal loans for both parents and students also require the FAFSA.

A great tool in finding the true cost of college, where you can discover a school’s average merit scholarship and average need-based aid award, as well as the school’s price tag, is on the CollegeBoard’s website: https://www.collegeboard.org/.

Nevada Union’s annual College Night will take place at 6 p.m on Oct. 7. College reps will be on hand and workshops on admissions, financial aid and careers will be offered.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor, who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.

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