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Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #1 – The Most Expensive College?

What is the most expensive college? 

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“The one you don’t graduate from!”
It is sort of a trick question and the answer commonly elicits a chuckle from a crowd. Yet, when I ask this follow up question – “How many of you know an individual who did not graduate from the first institution they attended?” – without fail 1/2 to 3/4 of the hands shoot up. Most of us do.
Nearly 1 in 2 students do not graduate from the 1st school they attend. Maybe you know “Passive Aggressive Pete”:

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“Pete” was a young man whom I invited into my office at the University of St. Thomas. Pete a stellar high school student, was failing most of his courses. “Surely, there are resources UST can provide to assist”, I asked. Pete looked at me and candidly replied, “Nope. I’m pissing my old man’s money away”. Pete eventually revealed he didn’t want to be at St. Thomas – but didn’t have a choice – everyone in the extended family had attended UST…
UST is a fine institution. But in Pete’s case did not fit. This was his passive-aggressive way of making his point. In today’s dollars, this is an awful lot of $$ to flush away. 
Maybe you know an “Annika”? 

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Class valedictorian. Had many many colleges recruiting her, yet her parents refused to take her to visit any of them, albeit one option – The University of Minnesota – because it was close and “cheaper” than most. But, Annika didn’t want to go to school in MN – the U. was not a good match – she did not want an extension of high school and yearned to experience a diversity of thought, culture, etc. She certainly didn’t want to attend a school with 35,000+ other undergraduates. Annika managed for a couple of years, before dropping out. She is now working as a barista at a Starbucks.
Turns out the U wasn’t “cheaper” after all. 
You likely know someone who chose their college by following friends (or worse yet a boyfriend/girlfriend) or because they liked their sports teams or listened to crazy Uncle Bob who claimed, “XYZ University was great for me, it will be for you too” or relied only on “reputation” or waited until the last minute and “fell into a college” or etc., etc.
Unhappily, thousands of Pete’s and Annika’s begin college every year. Students who end up at the wrong school for all the wrong reasons – often leaving sometime during freshman or sophomore year. Annually hundreds of millions of dollars are lost on sunk costs you never get back (room/board/tuition/fees/travel/etc.), lost wages, credits which don’t transfer lengthening the time to degree completion, additional loan debt, and so forth and so on.
Contrast them with “Danielle” the Designer. 

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Egad, Danielle’s dream school is ranked 191st by a national college ranking service! Her dad, the practical sort, wants her to major in chemistry because it is a “promising” career field and of course he has a colleague whose daughter has a fashion design degree and is managing a GAP store at the Mall of America. Mom wants “her baby girl” to go to school close to home. 

What would you do?

Fortunately, Danielle never waivered. Cooler heads prevailed. Ignoring “rankings”, Danielle enrolled at her dream school. She recently completed her junior year and is on track to graduate in four years. This “so-called” 191st ranked program?
The Fashion School at Kent State University.  Industry insiders (those who really matter and do the hiring), consistently rank it as one of the top five in the country. According to one industry professional, “…with study abroad programs in NYC, Paris, & Milan; a large endowment for scholarships, a fashion-focused MBA program, a high profile within the fashion industry…this school is one of the top American fashion schools and keeps getting better…” It is/was a good fit for Danielle. 
“The one you don’t graduate from!” So simple, yet so true – the #1 college cost-saving strategy really is finding a “Good Match” school.
In fact, life happens, but research shows a strong correlation between enrolling at a “good match” school and retention and graduation from said school. 
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College is expensive enough. Follow Danielle’s lead. Chose the “right” college in the first place and it will save you thousands of dollars. 
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Need help finding good match colleges. Contact me. and I can work with you to shave thousand’s of $$ off a college degree.  

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

 

Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #2 – COA Surprises

cost of attendance
Surprises, they can be good or bad.
Good, such as pulling a forgotten $20 out of a jacket pocket not worn over a long, long winter, an unexpected message or letter from an old friend, a thoughtful gift.
Or not so good, such as opening your tuition bill and realizing it is going to cost thousands of dollars more than you expected. How can this happen? Don’t colleges and universities advertise costs?
Yes and no.
Colleges typically advertise cost in terms of Cost of Attendance (COA). Federal financial aid guidelines define COA as:
    • Tuition & Fees
    • Room & Board
    • Books & Supplies
    • Transportation
    • Personal Expenses
Many (dare I say most) institutions are less than transparent when advertising the “true” cost of an education – typically they only market and advertise these five COA components. 
Now the rest of the story…
Smart higher education consumers need to play detective, sleuthing through brochures, web pages, letters, etc. to unearth hidden costs – to determine your “true” cost of attendance.
What are these shadowy hidden costs? From differential tuition rates – to loan origination fees and everything in between, hidden costs come in all shapes, sizes, and forms – real money out of your pocket. Let’s examine a few:
A common hidden charge is a differential (extra) tuition rate. It is fairly common for students majoring in nursing, engineering, business, computer science (to name a few), to be charged an extra fee on top of regular tuition rates – see examples below:

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Most families do not realize advertised room and board COA charges are the “average” rate a student can pay. The real cost can span thousands of dollars as evidenced by these 2018-2019 rates:

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Look at this statement from a college web site – “All students receive a laptop as part of our laptop program.” Cool! Not so fast. Dig deep enough and you find students are not receiving a laptop, they are paying for the use of one – the real cost:
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per semester.
Let’s talk disingenuous. In reviewing a financial aid award letter for a student this spring (see partial letter below), I noted the school understated their own cost of attendance (as calculated by their own Net Price Calculator) by thousands of dollars.
Note how they seem to have “forgotten” personal expenses or transportation in their “estimated” COA. “Luckily” when this was pointed out to the director of admission, this student’s award was adjusted upwards to include these real costs. 

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How about matriculation (new student) fees, course and lab fees, capital enhancement fees, tuition payment plan fees, credit card fees, excess credit charges beyond a full-time credit load, stadium fees, parking fees, health center fees – I digress… but I could go on and on and on…
Smart consumers need to shield themselves from COA surprises, by determining their “true” cost of attendance before choosing to enroll. Unearthing the “true” cost of attendance in many cases will be the difference between choosing one school over another – saving you thousands of $$ on the overall cost of your education.
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Need help finding good match colleges. Contact me. and I can work with you to shave thousand’s of $$ off a college degree.  

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

 

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