Can I Afford A Private College?

W. Kent Barnds, The Vice President of Enrollment at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, recently challenged the headline of my post, “When Applying To College, Consider The Price Tag” (scroll down to the comments section of this post to view his comment, if you’re interested…)

In a nut shell, he felt the title of the post was misleading to students because it encouraged them to consider the “price” of colleges during the application process, rather than “net cost.”

Mr. Barnds made a valid point; in that particular post I was specifically comparing one school’s “sticker price” to another school’s “sticker price.”

In doing so, I highlighted the merits of attending schools with less expensive “sticker prices” – like in-state public universities, community colleges, and trade schools. However, by comparing “sticker prices” (like I did) you may or may not be comparing apples to apples.

Why? …Because you don’t factor in the types of financial aid that you could receive from institutions that, upon first glance, appear to have high “sticker prices.”

Let me explain…

It’s kind of like buying a car. When you go to car dealership and look at the prices that are listed on the stickers in the car windows, it doesn’t always mean that you’ll end up paying that price. The car dealership might be running promotions or offer you other incentives to make the car more affordable.

The same thing goes for colleges. Even though tuition and fees for the 2011-2012 school year at Augustana College, for example, is $33,363 (not including room & board), that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up paying that price.

In fact, on Augustana’s website, they state the following:

“Augustana’s Financial Assistance Office is committed to working with you to make your enrollment a reality. In 2011-2012, we awarded more than $39 million in Augustana grants and scholarships and, 97% of our enrolled students received some type of financial assistance.”

So, even if the top schools on your list are private colleges (with what appear to high “sticker prices”), you should still apply!

In addition to the grant and scholarship money you could receive by simply filling out the FAFSA form, you could also be eligible to receive college-specific grants and scholarships, making tuition and related expenses more affordable for you and your parents.

So, the moral of the story is: Don’t let a private college’s (or any college’s) “sticker price” scare you. Just apply to the school, fill out your FAFSA form, and wait for the financial aid award letter to come in the mail.

You may be surprised by the outcome. You could find that the price or “net cost” of the private college is comparable to that of a state university after you factor in all of the financial aid you’re going to get.

Or, you might discover that a state university or community college makes more sense, financially speaking, for you and your family.

Either way, affordability is definitely one of the factors that you should consider during the college application and admissions process.

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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