Category Archives: financial aid

Chart: Low Income + Expensive Stated Tuition ≠ Unaffordable Education

Chart: Low Income + Expensive Stated Tuition ≠ Unaffordable Education

Actual Cost Cropped Pic

  (Chart above has been cropped for space reasons. Click on it for the full version)


This chart comes to us courtesy of Jeff Guo of the Washington Post, who included it in his short article about how poorer students get caught in the trap of not applying for good, cheap schools because they seem expensive on the surface. Indeed, the gap between actual post-aid tuition costs and sticker price can be significant, particularly at private schools whose endowments provide flexibility to tier their prices and/or negotiate individually. As Mr. Guo points out, the tuition for poorer household students borders on zero at many schools notorious for exclusivity and expense. College finance experts have written on this time and time again but this week’s chart provides an excellent visual prompt to not accept a stated tuition at face value.

The upshot: in your quest to identify schools that fit your needs and your pocketbook, don’t out of hand overlook those schools which seem expensive but might offer good financial aid packages. As you filter schools for affordability be sure not to rely solely on sticker prices. Instead determine what your costs at an institution will look like, whether through aid-adjusted aggregate data or more personalized calculators.


Chart: The Growing Trend of Tuition Discounts

Chart: The Growing Trend of Tuition Discounts


tuition discounting


Here we get some insight into a prevalent, confusing, and frustrating, aspect of the college experience: the fact that nobody knows what they will pay for any given school. While schools will publish tuition rates and total costs, if you pull ten random students from any random college (particularly the private ones) to ask what they actually pay you’ll end up with ten different answers.

As an article and accompanying chart by Kellie Woodhouse of Inside Higher Ed show, the average tuition discount now runs a full 48% for incoming freshmen and 41.6% overall. The article also states that a full 77% of current students currently receive a discount. In other words, we’re approaching the point where three-quarters of students pay an average of nearly half of the published tuition at their schools.

Why is this done? Why does the actual price paid differ so widely from the published price? The answer is twofold: 1) the higher published price allows colleges to charge more whenever they can get away with it and 2) discounts act as a discriminatory admissions tool. The college might only “need” to charge $25,000 per student, but if it has a certain number of students able to pay a higher tuition then they feel that to “only” charge that amount leaves money on the table. Also, as a college seeks to round out its student body with students of a certain variety (admissions counselors seek to engineer their demographic diversity along economic, racial, geographic, study area, and other lines) it will offer discounts to entice desired students to join the mix.

The second of these reasons engenders much controversy. After all, if a landlord posted rent at $X but put out the word that he would take half that amount from tenants of a certain “desirable” variety he would soon be sued for discrimination. But in the world of college this practice has become very much the norm. Right or wrong, it is what it is.

That said, this understanding should shift the behavior of those prospective students looking to get a good deal. For one, it literally pays to go where you’re wanted, as we’ve explored previously. For two, I always encourage students to explore schools primarily for other reasons beyond price, given the wide prevalence of discounting. In short, don’t rule out schools that seem out of reach if they’re an otherwise good fit (We’ll discuss this idea further in our next Tip of the Week).

In the meantime, be discouraged enough by tuition increases to take action to alleviate the pain, but encouraged that not all is at it seems on that front.


Universidad Gratis (Translation: Free College)

Universidad Gratis (Translation: Free College)

gratis grunge retro red isolated ribbon stamp

Lately there’s been a lot of debate about whether or not college could or should be free. As costs here in the United States continue to soar, does it make sense to advocate for a free public university system like what students in Germany, for example, experience?

What usually gets lost on us as we read these debatable policy proposals is that college is indeed free in many places overseas… and free for us as well. Just as foreign students can apply for colleges here and pay according to our policies, we can apply to foreign schools and pay according to their policies. If that country’s schools’ tuitions happen to be free for the locals, it’s often also available at no or little cost to us.

Continue reading Universidad Gratis (Translation: Free College)

Who’s Looking For You?

Who’s Looking For You?

wen wanted

The typical question students ask themselves, and the one we ask them as they approach high school graduation, goes something along the lines of “where do you want to go to school?” But when one peels back the curtain on the world of college admissions we realize very quickly that this coin has two sides; schools themselves regularly ask “who do we want at this school?

University admissions directors work very hard to craft a student population according to some ideal or another. Along with trying to attract academically proficient kids, most institutions also have certain demographic diversity targets. Herein lies our opportunity: find out who’s looking for you.  Continue reading Who’s Looking For You?

Military Aid: Understanding the Options

Military Aid: Understanding the Options


(Note, this information was accurate as of 1/2015. Check with the pertinent websites for updated information).

Generally speaking, if you find military service at least theoretically palatable as a college funding resource, then college is all but covered if you play your cards right. But what cards do you have available to play? Keeping in mind this is coming from a non-military guy, and no recruiters I called would speak on the record to me, this is my understanding of your options. Continue reading Military Aid: Understanding the Options

Military Aid: Three Critical Questions

Military Aid: Three Critical Questions

An illustration of a cartoon angry boot camp drill sergeant character

Uncle Sam’s Got Your Back

When researching military benefits you will run into enough acronyms, jargon, overlap, inter-branch disparities and bureaucratic stipulations to make you want to curl up in a corner and suck your thumb. Recruiters can help interpret it all, but also have obtained a reputation for intimidation and pressure that keeps many curious students at bay.

So where does one turn? Let’s explore this together, traveling in a linear fashion and picking up the information we need along the way while letting the rest lie untouched. Continue reading Military Aid: Three Critical Questions

Your New Hangout

Your New Hangout


If you’ve looked into this for any length of time you’ve likely noticed that quite a number of publicized scholarships are offered only through specific schools to those within them. Further, with fair frequency schools will raise funds throughout the year as committed donors occasionally give unannounced spare change to assist students, often within the discretion of the institution as to recipients and timing. Continue reading Your New Hangout

Find Money for Certain Studies


Find Money for Certain Studies

While most grant and scholarship money gets awarded to students for who they are or what they have done, there also exist pools of money available on the basis of what a student plans to do. Specifically, students with set plans to major in certain fields can look for money from organizations hoping to encourage certain career paths. Continue reading Find Money for Certain Studies

Say Hello to Your New Job

Say Hello To Your New Job



Yes, at times even researching scholarships can seem like a pain in the butt (never mind applying for them). As a student you already have enough on your plate. But consider the alternatives. You need money for school, and you don’t have it. If you don’t get it through scholarships, you’ll have to get it through the sweat of your own brow—or that of your family. Look at it objectively: Any student not consistently applying for scholarships apparently would rather work all summer for $10 per hour than spend a couple hours filling out an application for many multiples of that. Continue reading Say Hello to Your New Job