As I’ve said many times, students shouldn’t be applying to colleges unless they have a good idea of what those institutions will cost them. It’s easy to obtain these formerly elusive cost figures now that schools have installed net price calculators on their web sites.
Today I’m sharing the results from a mom (Lynne) who has used the net price calculators of dozens of schools that her bright daughter (Helen) may consider.
The family, which lives in the state of Washington, has a better chance of cutting its price because Helen is not limiting herself to certain types of schools or a particular geographic region. Her goal is to find a school where she is surrounded by students who love to learn. How refreshing is that?
What you see here is information about the family’s finances and Helen’s academic profile. Below that you’ll find the cost calculations for 66 schools.
Family’s Income & Assets
- $150,000 combined income
- $50,000 non-retirement assets
- $200,000 home equity
- $500 student assets
- Parents in mid-fifties
- One child will be in college with another two years behind
- 3.97 GPA (one B+)
- 4 APs, (4s & 5s); 3 more senior year
- 5 honors (wherever available)
- 2nd & 3rd yr Spanish university-level classes
- Approx #18 in class of 400. Many music classes (no honors available) probably brought that down.
- Enjoys every subject but especially music and math/science.
- 2 years in high school video production program; won several prizes but doesn’t want to go into show biz
- ACT combined 32 (no prep);
- SAT II: US History 740; Math II 790; Chem 800 – will take SAT I in the fall.
- Her PSAT in 10th & 11th grade was 214. (Editor’s note: National Merit Scholarship range is usually between 210 to 215.)
- Instrumental Music (three classes in three instruments this year; played in national festival; gives piano lessons)
- Volunteering for trail building crews (five one-week long trips over the last three years
- Teaching x-c skiing to kids ((fourth year coming up)
- All things outdoorsy – hiking/backpacking, biking, skiing, paddling.
We’ve got a good income now, but it’s doubled in the last couple of years so we don’t have a lot of retirement savings. So while we’re happy to pay for her college education, we don’t want to pay more than we have to! I am a little concerned about making sure the academics are adequate for her. Really though it sounds corny, her main interest is being surrounded by other students who love to learn.
Net Price Calculator Results for Helen
In summing up the results, Lynne noted that the less selective private college (as opposed to the private universities) and smaller state institutions were the most reasonably priced for her daughter. That’s something that I’ve been saying for a long time.
Schools without instantly recognizable brand names must work harder to attract students and that means providing merit awards. The sticker prices of these schools also are typically not as expensive. Less well-known schools in the South and Southeast (Hendrix, Milsaps, McDaniel) and Midwest (St. Olaf, Cornell College, Beloit, Lawrence, Hope) that are on this list, for instance, have sticker prices that are $10,000 or more cheaper than the brand name schools.
In contrast, the most elite schools don’t have to worry about their prices, which is why these institutions are now bumping up against the $60,000 milestone. While the most elite schools don’t provide merit aid to rich students, they will give need-based aid to students like Helen, whose family makes $150,000. A family in this income range can’t afford the published prices of the most costly schools. Even with need-based aid, however, the elite private schools will still cost more than the schools that provide merit scholarships.
If you have any observations about this list or topic, please share in the comment box below.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of the second edition of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.