Question: I am trying to decide where to attend college this upcoming Fall. My first option is my dream. a prestigious university in my favorite city. My second option is a much smaller and lesser known school in a smaller city. If the financial situation at both were the same, I would pick the first in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately, I would have to take out 15-20k in loans per year at my dream school. At my second option, I would graduate debt free. I am at the point where I will regret any university I pick; at one, I will regret the debt, the other, the dream lost. I know I could be happy at my second option, but I can’t stop comparing it to my dream.
Where is the line drawn between being optimistic and being foolish? Do I follow my heart or reason? Thank you so much for your advice!
Oy! A damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t decision. Those can be nasty, and –if you’re lucky–you won’t face too many in life. I’m sure this is very difficult for you, but you do seem to be approaching it in a mature and very reasonable way.
Yet, as much as I empathize with your dilemma, I also feel that it’s not appropriate for me–an Internet “Dean”–to weigh in on such a major choice without knowing you or at least a lot more about you.
However, I will share with you the story of “Caitlin,” a terrific and talented young woman in my orbit, who was facing a similar dilemma five years ago. She opted to pass up her dream school (which was Georgetown) to attend Lafayette College because Lafayette had offered her a big merit scholarship and she could graduate debt-free. I reminded her at the time that her four years at Lafayette would go fast and that it wouldn’t be long before she could apply to Georgetown for graduate school.
I also pointed out that she had the potential to be a star at Lafayette. So, although there was no guarantee that she’d be admitted to grad school at Georgetown, she ought to be able to position herself to do so while minimizing the costs of her undergrad education.
By the time Caitlin graduated from Lafayette last year, she had had the opportunity to work closely with faculty members and had earned the college’s highest honor. She had also accrued a long list of graduate school acceptances,including one from Georgetown. But, yet again, she decided to pass on Georgetown to make another choice.
One thing that you may discover in four years is that your “dream school” at age 18 may not be your dream school at age 22. But the debt will dog you regardless. Of course, no matter which college you choose, the other will be your “Road Not Taken,” and you may always wonder if you made the wisest choice.
But, before making ANY choice, here’s one thought: If you attend the pricier college, could you be in the running to be a Resident Advisor, which might cut out your room and board costs? (Some colleges offer deep discounts and even stipends for R.A’s; others are less generous. Also, at some schools, only seniors can have these jobs; sometimes, elsewhere, even sophomores can apply.) Although an R.A. job wouldn’t eliminate all of your annual debt, it might make a reasonable dent in it.
And how about A.P. or I.B. credits? If you enroll at your dream college, might you have enough to skip a semester or even a full year to cut costs?
Another consideration is your prospective major and career path. If you are looking down the road to med school or law school, you’ll probably also have more debt ahead. (That was the aforementioned Caitlin’s situation.) If you’re not thinking grad school, you may not be facing
additional debt, but this could mean you’ll have a harder time repaying your undergrad loans. Certain majors, however (e.g., engineering, computer science) MAY put you in a better spot to start paying off undergrad debt
right away than other majors will. So this has to be factored into the equation as you make the hard decision ahead.
If you want, let me know the names of the two schools in contention and perhaps I’ll have more to add once you do.
Finally, what advice is coming from your parents? Are they encouraging you to take the cheaper school or the more prestigious one? Although this may ultimately be YOUR decision, the peace that comes from it may be at least
partially affected by the level of support you get at home.
Good luck to you as you count down to May 1.
Posted in College Admissions, Financial Aid
Question: I am an international student from Bangladesh and looking to apply for fall 2014. I have been doing a bit of research on U.S schools for higher studies and thus I came to know about Early Decision. I am not looking for top notch schools like MIT, HARVARD or CORNELL because I might have the most possibility of getting rejected as only the best students from our country make it into those schools. Nevertheless, I did find a lot of schools that could meet up with me in every aspect. University of Rochester, by far fits me really well.
But now, when I came to know about ED, I got a bit confused. If I am admitted to the college but do not get the aid I need to attend, am I obligated to go anyway (and how could I)? Can I negotiate for more money? Thank you.
When a student applies to a binding Early Decision program and is also a candidate for financial aid, then the student may withdraw from the ED commitment if the aid award is insufficient. But this must be done almost immediately, usually within about three weeks of receiving the verdict. An applicant cannot wait until spring to compare the ED aid offer with other offers.
This can make Early Decision tricky for international students because some colleges have no need-based aid for international students, only “merit aid.” And, commonly, merit aid awards aren’t determined until the spring, well after Early Decision students must commit—or not—to their ED school.
With U. of Rochester, however, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that, although Rochester gives only merit-aid (not need-based) to international applicants, it IS possible to apply Early Decision because ED candidates will receive a merit-aid determination shortly after receiving an admissions verdict. So, as an international applicant requiring financial assistance, you CAN apply to U. of Rochester, as long as you understand that you will have to back out of the “binding” commitment promptly if you are accepted but without sufficient funds. There may be a little room for negotiation if the college comes close to meeting your need, but probably not a lot.
The bad news is that the top merit award at U. of Rochester provides full tuition, but students must pay room, board, and other expenses themselves. So if you family does not have the means to cover at least part of your college costs, then Rochester is not a wise choice for you. (And, at the time that you apply, you will have to supply documentation of the funds that your family has available to cover your college costs.)
Early Decision can actually be a smart choice for international students who need money, if the college in question provides a financial decision at the time of the admissions decision, as Rochester will. Colleges have limited budgets for international aid and often want to spend that money on students who really want to be there. Moreover, if you wait until the Regular Decision round to apply to a college you like, you may find out that another student (or several)from your country got admitted and received financial aid, which decreases the odds that you will be admitted and aided, too.
Note also that the bar is always set very high for international applicants needing financial aid. This means that, even if your grades and test scores mesh with the norms at U. of Rochester (or at any other college you’re considering), you may not be accepted because you need money. I can’t emphasize enough how competitive college admissions can be for international students seeking financial aid, especially those who need a lot. So do be wary as you make your college list. If you’re seeking financial assistance, make sure that you focus on colleges where you are likely to be one of the top students on campus.
In addition, you may learn about certain American colleges because other students from Bangladesh have gone there or are applying there. And that’s definitely a good way to add options to your list. But … your chances of getting aid will improve if you apply to places where your country is not highly represented in the applicant pool. Colleges on the East and West coasts tend to be popular for international students, so don’t overlook the middle of the U.S. where there are some very fine schools that are eager to attract more candidates from your home country. If you’re willing to study on a campus where Bangladesh isn’t well represented, this could give you a bit of an edge at decision and financial aid time.
Hope that helps. Good luck
Posted in College Admissions, Financial Aid
Question: My daughter is a high school senior. She has received several scholarships, some for full tuition. Is it appropriate to inform the Ivies (and other highly selective colleges) of this while we are waiting the final two weeks for their decisions?
Congratulations to your daughter on her scholarships. But, no, it is not at all appropriate to tell admission officials at the elite colleges that she has received scholarships from (presumably) less selective schools. The admission folks won’t care, and they might even resent the fact that you are trying to apply this pressure, especially during their busiest time of year.
Think of it this way … let’s say that you’ve just invited Typhanee—the hottest girl in your high school—to the senior prom. She said she’ll think it over and get back to you. Meanwhile, your cousin Mabel proposes that, since she and her two best friends from the chess club don’t have dates, you could all split a limo and go together. Do you think that providing this information to Typhanee would help to spur an affirmative decision? Nope, didn’t think so. (By the way, I don’t mean to cast aspersion on chess players by suggesting that they can’t be desirable. I played three games with my son this morning—he’s home sick with a virus—so it’s just on my brain, and the stereotyping was a cheap but probably effective way to make a point.)
But here’s where the scholarship offers MAY be used as leverage down the road:
If, once all the verdicts are in, your daughter decides that she wants to attend a college that did not offer her a good (or any) scholarship, but she received better money from one or more comparably selective colleges on her list, then you can suggest to the top-choice school that they’d have a stronger shot at snagging her if they would match (or exceed) the offer made by the competitor school(s). Note, however, that this probably won’t work if the college that offered the good scholarship is less sought-after than the one you’re trying to cajole. Of course, it may not work at all … even if the preferred college is less selective than the one that offered the better dough. Also, if you don’t qualify for need-based aid, then you cannot squeeze merit money out of an institution that doesn’t provide it in the first place.
So stay mum on the scholarships for now but do consider using them for leverage later on, as needed. However, if you do, make sure that you act appreciative for whatever you’ve been offered so far and not merely entitled to more. The finaid folks do not like to be bullied, and you’ll catch more flies with honey.
Posted in College Admissions, Financial Aid
Question: I’m an American living abroad and thinking about applying to universities in the UK. Am I still eligible for financial aid? My parents pay US taxes.
If you are a US citizen, you can qualify for financial aid, even if you currently live outside the US and plan to also attend college outside the US. BUT … this is assuming that your family qualifies for need-based aid in the first place. You can play around with this online Expected Family Contribution calculator to see roughly how much your family should plan to pay for your education each year: http://www.collegeconfidential.com/financial_aid/efc.htm
However, the US Federal financial aid that you can receive when attending British universities will come in the form of loan (which has to be paid back) . Thus it may not feel much like financial aid at all, although it could allow you to attend an institution that you might not otherwise be able to afford and which will end up being less costly than many alternatives in the US (due to the price tag overall and to the fact that your program there may be three years instead of the usual four).
Note, also, that, once you identify the universities in the UK (or elsewhere outside the US) that you want to attend, you need to check with them to make sure that your US federal assistance is good there and that your particular program of study qualifies for US Federal aid. (Most will but not all.)
Most important, note that Pell Grants cannot be used outside of the US unless you are a Pell-eligible student who attends a US college or university where your Pell grant is accepted. In this case, it’s possible (although not guaranteed) that you can use your Pell funds towards a study-abroad program that is offered by your own university or by another qualifying one in the US.
If you plan to matriculate in Britain (and not via a US-based study-abroad option), your best bet for financial aid may come in the form of “Bursaries” (the British word for scholarships) that some UK schools will award to non-citizens.
Below is some additional information on attending a UK university if you are not a British citizen: http://uk.internationalstudent.com/international-financial-aid/ Here you will find a list of British schools that offer special scholarships to international applicants, which might be helpful to you … especially if it turns out that you DON’T qualify for US aid.
As noted above, even if you don’t receive US aid, attending college outside the US can be a bargain. Tuition is often lower than it is in the US, and many foreign degree programs last only three years, not the traditional four, which means you’ll save an entire year of payments. (Most US graduate schools will accept a three-year diploma that was earned abroad, but do tread cautiously because this will vary from institution to institution and even from one academic field to the next within the same institution.)
Finally, keep in mind that some overseas universities are not as familiar with the US financial aid process as domestic colleges are, so allow extra time whenever possible. You’re wise to start planning now.
Posted in Financial Aid
Question: Can a Division 3 college take back any scholarship given to a freshman to play sports if he or she doesn’t make the team sophomore year?
Division 3 colleges do not offer athletic scholarships at all. So any money awarded to a Div. 3 athlete would be based on financial need, academic talent or other (non-athletic) abilities. Thus, if the student is cut from the team (or simply decides not to participate) there would be no impact on the scholarship.
Note, however, that sometimes Div. 3 colleges do a scholarship “end run” for athletes. That is, if a student is a recruited athlete, the school is not allowed to offer money for sports. But the school IS allowed to offer the student merit money that is labeled as being for other purposes. The school can also “sweeten the pot” by providing a need-based financial aid “package” that includes less loan and more grant (the good stuff that need not be repaid) than a non-athlete might receive. But, again, if the athlete doesn’t continue in his or her sport–for whatever reasons–the school cannot rescind the scholarship because of this.
Posted in Financial Aid
Question: I was wondering (and praying) if financial aid would cover campus housing. My mother and I have been unemployed for over 5 years and living under my grandmother’s roof. So we make 0 monthly. It is so very difficult to find a job where I am in NC. HORRIBLE. And the school I need and want to attend is out of state. Thank you for your help!
The good news: When colleges compute financial aid, it is based on total “Cost of Attendance,” and not on tuition alone. So your room & board, miscellaneous fees, and even travel to and from campus will be part of the aid formula. Note also that, at some colleges, students who are selected to be “Resident Advisors” receive free rooms and sometimes free board, too. (These Resident Advisor jobs, which may be called by different names at different schools, are typically reserved for juniors and seniors but sometimes sophomores are eligible as well. The positions are often very competitive. Good grades and, especially, involvement in extracurricular activities are usually weighted heavily in the selection process.)
The bad news: Many colleges will not meet your full financial need or–if they do meet it–some of your “aid” may be in the form of loans that you must repay. While student loans have reasonable interest rates, you want to be careful not to graduate with too much debt. Thus, your best bet is to not set your sights on just one college alone. Instead, you should apply to several places—including in-state schools that might be most affordable. Then you can compare financial aid offers before making a final choice.
But, above all, you shouldn’t let your family’s low income keep you from attending college. You just have to be a savvy “shopper” in order to find the place that will meet your academic and personal preferences while also offering sufficient financial support to make it a realistic option.
Posted in Financial Aid
Question: Is a green card holder an international student ? I just came to US in 2012 and now I am a junior and study in a NJ high school. Can I get admission to a tech college and can I get financial aid?
Good news … a Permanent Resident (green card holder) is eligible for US Federal financial aid, just as US citizens are.
Bad news (only maybe) … I can’t predict if you will be admitted to the tech colleges on your list. This will depend on your grades, test scores, recommendations, etc.
But more good news … unlike in many countries abroad, there is such a wide range of colleges and universities in the US that all students will be admitted somewhere. So just make certain that your “stats” (mainly this means the classes you chose, the grades you earned, and your SAT or ACT scores, where required) are appropriate for the colleges on your list. If you think that these stats make your top-choice college a “Reach,” be sure that you have “Safer” options on the list as well.
Finally, because you recently came to the US, if English is not your first language most colleges will require that you take the TOEFL or another test of English proficiency. So be sure to read application instructions carefully to see if this applies to you.
Posted in College Admissions, Financial Aid
Question: I am a high school senior and I want to go to America to study aerospace engineering, but my school grades are in 70s. I did the SAT and I got 1500 but now I can’t afford the fees of a university and I found out about community colleges. My question is can I go to a 2-year community college and transfer to an aerospace university?
It is definitely possible for a student who is successful at a community college and who takes the appropriate prerequisite courses to transfer to an aerospace program at a four-year university in the US.
BUT … the bar is set VERY high for international students who require financial assistance. Right now, your GPA and SAT’s are too low for you to be considered for a scholarship at any US college or university, if you are not a US citizen or Permanent Resident.
However, if you are an outstanding student at your community college, regardless of your current grades and test scores, it’s possible that you will be able to earn a scholarship when you apply to transfer to a four-year school. But do know that this is a big long-shot. If you will require significant financial aid when you transfer and cannot cover your college expenses yourself, then you may be out of luck.
Posted in College Admissions, Financial Aid
Question: I am typing a scholarship essay that is supposed to be 500 words long. I was typing and continued to type and type and soon realized I was at 600 words. So I finished up and was about to submit it when I saw in smaller print in the instructions that it is supposed to be 500 words or less. Should I cut out some of my essay or submit it with all 601 words? I have heard that they may not even look at it or they may cut it off at 500 and not even read the rest. I really liked my essay but if it means being disqualified then I will definitely cut some parts out. Thanks!
If the online form did not actually cut you off at 500 words, then you don’t have to worry about an exact count. BUT … I have NEVER (in three decades) read a student essay that couldn’t use at least a little shortening in order to be stronger. So I suggest that you try to carve off at least 50 of those extra words.
Be particularly aware of first-paragraph “throat clearing.” Often when I edit a student essay, the first thing I do is to delete all or most of the opening sentences.
For instance, if the topic is “Tell us about an experience that helped you to learn something about yourself,” it’s common to see an essay that starts something like this:
People learn about themselves in many ways. Sometimes it is from a pleasant experience and sometimes it is an unpleasant one. Sometimes it takes a while to learn the lesson and sometimes it is learned immediately. But most of us realize that both the good and bad times we have in our lives will teach us lessons that will stay with us forever.
The day I broke Ephraim McEwan’s Volvo window with a socket wrench was just the beginning. It wasn’t intentional but it wasn’t entirely accidental either … depending, of course, on how “accidental” is defined. For starters, I should tell you that I’m pretty handy with tools. I’ve been repairing my own bike since I was 7; I built the bookcase in my bedroom when I was 12; and I’m in the process of helping my father restore a 1968 Plymouth Suburban station wagon that has been in the family since he was a teenager. So having a wrench in my back pocket was completely legitimate. I only wish now that it had stayed there …
Sixty-three words were wasted on the first paragraph … almost entirely hackneyed drivel! The second paragraph is immediately engaging, and the author should have saved those initial five-or-so-dozen words and started with the Volvo window.
Likewise, take a look at what you can lop off of your essay, but don’t feel that it’s imperative that you cut it down to exactly 500 words, if 50 or fewer extras will still fit in the space.
Posted in College Admissions, Financial Aid, Other College Issues
Question: My older son was admitted to Stanford and Princeton but I convinced him to go to UCLA because he was given free tuition.
We don’t qualify for any need-based scholarship and my younger son, a rising high school senior, might be facing the same situation. If, for example he gets into Harvard, would it make sense to borrow $50,000 a year or have him follow his brother’s example? He is a very hard working student and it’s sad that he has to settle.
You’ve asked a common and confusing question … somewhere in the same league as the one about the chicken and the egg. In other words, there are no easy answers.
Over the past decade or so, folks on the College Confidential discussion forum … and in the greater world beyond it (and, yes, there is a world beyond CC, though sometimes I tend to forget it ) … have often debated this same issue: Is the value of a big-name degree worth the dough that it demands? You’ll find that the answers range from emphatic yeses to equally adamant nos, and they come from not only the parents who have shelled out—or saved—big bucks, but also from students and alums who have had time to test out the fire-power of their assorted sheepskins.
My perspective? Certainly for anyone who can spend $60K per year with about the same insouciance that allows me to buy red grapes when they’re not on sale at Stop & Shop, it probably makes sense to spring for the high-status alma mater. I once served on a panel with a well known 40-something Harvard alum who was asked if she felt that her degree warranted its cost. She insisted that it did, noting that “As soon as people find out where I went to college, they just assume I’m smart. They don’t expect me to prove it.” But she was also quick to point out that, on the road to career success, she had encountered others traveling beside her who had attended far less snazzier schools and were doing just fine nonetheless.
So for the rest of us, the waters are far murkier. Certainly UCLA is nothing to sneeze at. Its name provides as much recognition as that of an Ivy but with less prestige. If my own son faced this decision, I would first look beyond the price to see what each college offers. Factors like major, location, size, extracurriculars, etc. might make UCLA a better fit for some students than Harvard would be.
But if both schools ticked the same number of boxes on my child’s list, I would only be willing to pay for the expensive college if I felt that my son desperately wanted to be there, seemed to have valid reasons for being so insistent, and if the financial burden we would have to shoulder would be manageable. While some college debt is inevitable for most families, parents need to take an objective look at exactly what this will require in their own household. For instance, what happens if a parent loses a job? What happens if the student plans to head to graduate school, especially in pricey areas like medicine and law? How much money will remain for retirement? For other children?
And how important to you is prestige? Try to be honest with yourself about that. For some people, it’s worth the steep fee. But also ask yourself what fall-out you can expect if you agree to finance Harvard (or the like) for your younger son after saying no to the older one.
Finally, keep in mind that even if your older son’s decision boiled down to Stanford or Princeton vs. UCLA, your younger son is just a high school junior and he need not be faced with only a similar choice. There are some colleges that are private and prestigious but which also offer full or big merit awards (e.g., Johns Hopkins, Washington University in St. Louis, Vanderbilt, Emory, Boston College, Notre Dame). So if your son is strong enough to be admitted to Harvard, he may have the option of earning a free or cheap education at other institutions besides UCLA.
Finally, if your two sons are in college concurrently, you may qualify for need-based aid, even if you didn’t qualify when your older son applied for college. Have you done the Net Price Calculator on the Harvard Web site to confirm that Harvard will be as costly as you suspect? Note, too, that all colleges are now required to post a Net Price Calculator online. Although these new tools are not completely reliable, I recommend that you play around with one–or several–to see if you will really need to borrow as much as you claim.
But, ultimately, deciding how much to spend on a child’s education is a very personal decision. If you tell your son that Harvard is out of reach, you may always feel sad about this choice. But, on the other hand, your son can get an excellent education at UCLA … or at countless other more affordable institutions … and I’ve heard plenty of complaints about Harvard (and other hyper-competitive, hyper expensive schools) so don’t ever make him feel that he was merely “settling.”
Posted in College Admissions, College Search, Financial Aid