‘List price’ can be shocking.
But there are ways to beat it.
The challenge of funding a young person’s college education is a subject that most parents face eventually, and Candy Bodner, veteran guidance counselor at Jericho High School and a parent, is there to help them.
“Even if you’re a millionaire, you have to be concerned about paying for college,” she said. “It can cost as much as $60,000 a year and it’s going up. Even if you have it, that’s a lot of money.”
The first step, Bodner said, “is to be aware. Educate yourself.” She especially cautions about taking out loans, noting that there are different kinds of loans with different conditions and that graduates must start paying the loan back not long after graduating.
She also encourages high school juniors and seniors to consider the full range of options. High-end colleges are attractive “but what if you’re planning to go to graduate school? You could be facing another huge tuition bill.”
Students and their parents need to consider their family situation when choosing a college. “If you put your retirement savings into your children’s tuition, it will take you a while to replenish it, and that might put you in a bad position.”
Community colleges and state universities can offer quality education at more affordable costs.
At the same time, she urges prospective college students and their families to investigate scholarships, merit aid and financial assistance that are available. She also counsels those interested in a particular college to advise that college if they are facing financial barriers.
“Colleges do want the students whom they accept to come,” Bodner said, and sometimes ways can be found to accommodate a student who needs help.
And the fact that the colleges want the students they accept can be a boon to the parents, according to Plainview financial aid consultant Andy Lockwood.
“The first thing that parents need to understand is that colleges will negotiate,“ said Lockwood. “Most parents don’t know this. Most people just accept what they get. They don’t have to. There is room to either negotiate, or the word that colleges prefer is, ‘appeal.’ I think some of the financial officers think of themselves as like they’re on the Supreme Court. Any type of mercenary words like ‘negotiate’ is beneath them. That’s why they prefer that you ‘appeal’ to their judgment.”
While parents of current seniors might not be able to take advantage of all of Lockwood’s suggestions due to time constraints, parents of juniors can benefit.
Another suggestion by Lockwood is that students apply to what he refers to as “competing” schools. “Out of the over 2,700 four-year colleges in the United States, only about 100 or so accept 50 percent or less of their applicants,” he claimed. “There are a whole lot of schools out there that are struggling to fill seats. Even at the Ivy level there’s a lot of schools that will compete. Cornell even suggests you appeal if you have another offer from an Ivy League school.”
To illustrate the effectiveness of his strategies, Lockwood cites the case of one of his most recent successes, a student who was accepted at USC in Los Angeles for the current year. Tuition, without any aid, would have been over $56,000, including room and board. Last April 14th, the student received an initial award of $23,518. A month later, guided by Lockwood, the university had increased the award by $30,022. The total award—$53,540—was for a single year.
“This was an atypical case,” he said, “but we’ve had similar successes over the years. In her junior year when she was picking schools she came up with a few other colleges that compete with the University of Southern California. A lot of people would think that the other schools were in southern California, like UCLA and Pomona, and they do compete with each other. But there are East Coast schools that compete with USC. In her case, George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) gave her a much better offer.”
“So,” he continued, “we wound up writing a letter to the financial officer at USC in a very gracious tone telling the school that USC was her top choice and she was very excited to go there but that her family couldn’t afford USC. We told them we had other offers and attached them to the letter. The letter wasn’t outrageous or pushy. Financial officers get lots of those. The letter also said that she was 100 percent committed to going there. We requested that they reassess her situation and asked if they could meet or exceed her other offers.
But we didn’t hear from the school for several weeks.”
The next step that Lockwood took was to ask the student to send that same package to the admissions office at USC. The family heard from admissions almost immediately with the increased offer.
“Admissions, unlike the bean counters in those financial offices, are the ones who care,” said Lockwood in explaining why the college upped its award so substantially. “Admissions people care whether the people they admit actually show up and matriculate. And the reason for that is the ‘yield ratio’, the percentage of people who are admitted and actually attend—that actually affects the school’s ranking in publications such as U.S. News & World Report and a school’s credit rating. You know when they go to borrow the money for their next $20-million athletic facility? Admissions, they’re the real stake holders.”