It is particularly important for students from lower-income families to identify affordable college options as early as possible in the college planning process. It is no secret that it is harder for students from lower-income families to afford college – particularly four year residential colleges.
That said, it is possible! And all options should be explored, including:
- Private Colleges & Universities
- In-State Universities
- Starting in Junior College or Community College
- Commuting from Home
Ignore the Sticker Price! Focus on the Net Price for all potential target colleges. The Net Price is the discounted price you will pay after all grants & scholarships are awarded. Start the process of estimating your Net Price by learning about Net Price Calculators.
1. The Private College Opportunity
Remember to ignore the Sticker Price of high priced private colleges and compute the Net Price that you will actually be expected to pay at these schools.
In many cases, the need-based discounts offered by private college reduce the net price to a amount that is very affordable. Often the resulting net price for private colleges and universities is less than the net price for the in-state public universities.
This is especially true at the private colleges that “meet full need” by way of generous financial aid policies. There are approximately 70 schools that meet full need.
For academically qualified students from low income families, the schools that “meet full need” offer the best chance for a “traditional, live on-campus” undergraduate experience.
2. Public University Options in the Home State
Students review all public university options in their home state. In many states tuition & fees for residents are quite low and many flagship state universities are quite prestigious. But don’t limit yourself to the flagship campus. There are many quality public schools in every state.
Note: Although the sticker price is always lower at state schools (for in-state students) than it is at private colleges, the net price might be lower at some private college once all grants and scholarships are applied.
Research Your State Financial Aid Programs
In general, students who live in states with generous state grant programs will have an easier time finding affordable college options.
The California state grant program is exceptionally generous for qualifying in-state students who attend one of the UC schools. The Cal Grant A program awards up to full system wide tuition for low income students with a high school GPA of 3.0 or better.
Avoid Most Out of State Public School Options
Unless there is a special regional tuition agreement or other reciprocity agreement, out of state public schools will usually be a very expensive option. This is because most states charge much higher tuition for out of state students while offering fewer discounts. There are a few exceptions to this rule so don’t simply dismiss all out of state public school options without doing any research. On the other hand, don’t assume these schools will be affordable just because they are public and not private. In fact, it is very possible, even likely, that you can find some private colleges that are less expensive than out of state public schools.
3. Explore Options at Local Community Colleges/Junior Colleges
There is no shame in starting your college career in a two-year program and then transferring to a four-year college.
- Where you finish is much more important that where you start.
- The college that ultimately awards your degree is the school that employers see on your resume and the school that carries the most weight on applications to graduate school.
- Some states guarantee transfer into their four-year colleges for junior college students who take the right classes and maintain a required GPA.
- Many private schools, including very selective and prestigious colleges, accept transfer students who graduate from community college and junior college programs.
4. Commuting from Home
Although living on campus offers some obvious benefits, room & board is expensive and not always affordable. It is the coursework and the degree that offers the most important lifelong benefits. Students who have a local college option should consider living at home during college. This is especially true for students who would be forced to borrow or work excessively to pay for room and board at a residential college.
All too often, students borrow too much, or work too much, or both, to pay for room & board at a residential campus. It’s not worth it for 120 weeks of living on campus. That’s right, only 120 weeks. Typically, everyone thinks of the college experience in terms of “calendar years” even though the “academic year” is much shorter. A standard two semester academic year is only 30 weeks.
While it is understandable that many students want to have a traditional on-campus experience, it is much more important to obtain a college degree – even if it means living at home for a little while longer.
Although some high Sticker Price private colleges are able to offer lower-income students an affordable Net Price, most do not have enough resources to make their school a viable option for lower-income students.