This is a stressful time for teenagers and parents who are waiting for acceptances. Or who are trying to decide what the ultimate college choice will be. Or who are wondering how they are going to pay for a school when their financial aid package is inadequate.
Today I want to share some conversations that I’ve had at my gym with stressed-out moms of high school seniors, who have about seven weeks left to make their final decisions.
Every Sunday morning at my exercise class I’ve been talking to an emotionally drained mom, whose brilliant daughter is trying to decide whether she will ultimately go to Rice University or Scripps College.
Every time the subject comes up I make a pitch for Scripps College. A friend of mine, who is a college counselor at a prominent private high school in San Diego, usually saunters up during the conversation and also gives her opinion: Scripps! We all agreed that Rice is an excellent institution, but that the girl’s opportunities, in our opinion, are superior at Scripps.
Women’s colleges are incredible institutions. When graduates of women’s colleges are polled they are happier with their college experience than women who attend coed liberal arts colleges. Women graduates of coed liberal arts colleges, by the way, are happier with their educational experience than women who attend universities. Graduates of women’s colleges also attend grad school in greater numbers.
Among all of the nation’s women’s colleges, Scripps students enjoy the singular opportunity to attend coed classes literally a minute’s walk away at the other excellent Claremont schools (Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer). If you want to learn more about the beauty of attending a women’s college (I didn’t intend this to be the purpose of this post) check out the website of The Women’s College Coalition) and a previous post of mine Ditching Boys: Why Attending a Woman’s College Is a Great Idea.
The Perfect School Doesn’t Exist
The agonizing that this young woman and her parents are experiencing isn’t any different than what families across the country are experiencing. During our conversation this morning, the college counselor shared something that is important to keep in mind.
Teenagers and parents must make choices based on the best information they have. There is no one perfect school for any child. When you pick a college or university, students and parents shouldn’t second guess themselves. Instead teenagers should dedicate themselves into making their college experience, wherever they end up, the best one possible. I couldn’t agree more.
Merit Scholarships vs. Need-Based Aid
For many families, financial aid offers will play a significant role in selecting a school. Consequently, I wanted to share a question that I got from another mom at my gym that I suspect a lot of parents are wondering about. Here is the gist of her question:
If my child receives a merit scholarship from a school is that dollar amount subtracted from our Expected Family Contribution?
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an Expected Family Contribution is the amount of money, at a minimum, that a family will be required to pay for one year of school.
If you are poor, your EFC should be $0. You can’t afford to pay anything for college, but that almost never means that the child will attend school for free.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is no ceiling on a family’s EFC. A corporate executive at a Fortune 1000 company once told me that by using the College Board’s EFC calculator he determined that his EFC was $108,000 a year. Of course no college costs $108,000 a year (yet) and in his case he was interested in his child finding schools that offer merit scholarships to rich students. Nearly all institutions do.
A Sample EFC
To give you a ballpark example of an EFC, I’m sharing one that I use in my workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College. Here are the family’s stats:
- Total gross income: $150,000
- Home equity: $100,000
- College accounts/home equity: $50,000
- One child heading to college and a sibling in high school
Here is the EFC using the two methodologies:
- Federal methodology: $31,426
Institutional methodology: $27,727
What You Do With Your EFC
I don’t know what the mom at the gym’s EFC is, but let’s just assume it’s $31,426 and that the cost of the school is $50,000. I’m also going to assume that the child received a $15,000 a year merit scholarship.
The mom’s question is whether this scholarship is subtracted from her EFC, which would bring her EFC down to $16,426. If her EFC dropped to that level, her child would potentially be in line for a lot of need-based aid.
In reality, however, merit scholarships do not shrink a family’s EFC. In this case, the EFC will remain $31,426. This is what the family would have to cover. Combining the EFC and the merit scholarship, brings the grand total to $46,426. That’s almost gets you to the cost of the college. Once a school adds in a federal Stafford Loan for the child, the teenager’s need would be met.
In cases where the combination of a family’s EFC and merit scholarship doesn’t come close to covering the cost of attendance, a student may receive additional help. Whether the gap is covered by need-based grants versus loans or a combination will often depend upon how much a school desires the applicant.
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