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College Admissions

Coping With Rising College Costs

In a time of falling home prices and an uncertain economy, even parents who make good money are worried about the increasing cost of a college education. While public universities in California are still priced well below private colleges, fees are likely to increase at the same time that budget cuts may mean students will find it more difficult to graduate in four years.

There are some positive developments at private colleges. New financial aid policies at many Ivy League and other highly selective schools will make it possible for more students from middle-income families to attend these colleges and graduate without debt, though it also means competition for admission to these schools will be even more intense.

These elite schools only offer need-based aid, but there are other excellent colleges that offer merit-based aid, or scholarships. Administrators at some of these schools want to compete with Ivies and will use scholarships to lure top students who don’t qualify for need-based aid. Some of these colleges may not be as well-known, but many of them provide a wonderful educational experience and have great track records of sending students on to law, medical and graduate schools. While admissions officers say they don’t play the rankings games, the truth is that they are under pressure from administrators to raise the profile of their school, and that often means offering scholarships to students whose grades, and especially test scores, are above the average for the college.

I encourage my clients to take advantage of these opportunities to get an excellent education while saving money. Several of my seniors have received scholarship offers of at least $20,000 a year, which takes $80,000 off the cost of a four year college education. Many others received $9,000-$15,000, renewable each year. Students are most likely to get scholarship offers at schools where they are near the top of the applicant pool.

Even students who may not qualify for scholarships can find schools that offer a quality education at a reasonable price. I was at a luncheon recently with admission officers from a group of public universities on the East coast. Even though California students would pay out of state tuition, the cost to attend one of these excellent schools would be much less than private colleges, and for students who may not get into their preferred UC, or who want to experience life in another part of the country, they offer great value.

There are other schools outside of California that actually offer a discount to California students. One of my students is interested in studying nutrition and I directed her to several programs where her California residency will save her family thousands of dollars a year.

Spending less on a bachelor’s degree can be especially important for students who plan to go on to law, medical or graduate school. An aspiring physician received a financial package of over $28,000 from her first choice college. That does not include loans, and she will be able to start medical school without major debt. My niece, who starts at Harvard Law School in September, had a full scholarship at University of Maryland and now has the money for law school that her parents did not have to spend on her undergraduate education.

College costs will continue to go up, but there are many ways to get an excellent education without breaking the bank.

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