Don’t choose a college based on the sticker price
The biggest barrier between you and a college education is the cost of attendance. That said, it’s not always wise to choose your college based solely on its “sticker price”—or the cost that’s advertised up front, which often seems impossibly large if you were made to pay this price for college by yourself. But here’s the truth: in certain ways, the actual cost of a college doesn’t necessarily dictate how much you are going to pay.
Knowing your Expected Family Contribution
Many colleges use the same formula-based system to determine how much your family can pay for college. This amount is known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). If the formula determines that your family can afford $10,000 per year, whether the actual price of the college is $20,000, $30,000, or $40,000 per year, your out-of-pocket costs should still be $10,000.
In other words, your Expected Family Contribution will be the same across all colleges, except in the case of some elite, top-tier private colleges, which apply their own formulas to decide how much your family can afford. The gap between your Expected Family Contribution and the cost of attendance should be covered by financial aid, consisting of grants and scholarships that don’t have to be paid back, low-interest student loans, like subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford loans, and work-study.
The key to it all: apply for financial aid early
Know what college is really going to cost. Then apply to whatever schools you want, regardless of sticker price, cost of attendance, cost of college, or whatever else you want to call it. Then fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), see what your financial aid package is like, and pick a school based on the actual price as opposed to what was advertised—that means know what the school is going to cost you specifically, after financial aid is considered, before you commit to attending a specific school. Your best bet for a good financial aid package: fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as early as possible. The application is available January 1st for the following academic year. Complete it quickly, confidently, and get help for free using our FAFSA Coach. Once you submit the FAFSA, each school you sent it to will put together an aid package (should you qualify for aid) and let you know how much money you’re awarded.
The College Search
- College Selection, Parents & College on the Cheap
- Finding the Right College
- Finding the Right Fit in a College
- Keeping the College Doors Open
- Lessons Learned About the College Process for Six Children
- Lessons Learned on the First Year of College Costs
- Setting the Parameters in the College Search Process
- When should I start looking at schools?