During College: Spring Break, Not Spring Bankruptcy

Soon it’ll be spring break, an opportunity for fun, travel, and memories. Many college students consider it a right of passage, and many families want them to enjoy it.

But spring break can be expensive. College students spend well over $1 billion on it every year. But using government loans to pay for it will, even at today’s record low interest rates, cost at least $19.78 in interest for every $100 spent.

There’s still a lot of school left after spring break. So help your spring breaker be tough-minded and disciplined about spending decisions. For example:

  • Travel: The farther away the destination, the costlier the travel — especially img_5569if it involves high March air fares. For example, one major airline’s coach fares show a mid-March round trip Denver to Cancun (2,693 miles) costing $2,333 while its airfare from Denver to San Diego (1,078 miles) is $859.
  • Lodging: The more friends your student bunks with, the lower the cost for shelter, especially if they’re splitting the cost of a short-term rental house instead of hotel rooms.
  • Food and Beverages: Renters can prepare some of their own meals instead of eating out. And caution your student not leave an open tab anywhere. It’s also important to scrutinize meal and bar bills to avoid accidental or “moocher” charges.
  • Purchases: Clothing, swimsuits, footwear, etc. — urge your student to pack it, not buy it there at inflated prices. He or she should also take that student ID because it may generate some discounts.

More and more students are also saving by skipping those stereotypical beech and ski trips. Satisfying but much less expensive activities are out there. For example:

  • Your student can get some friends together for camping or an amusement park visit.
  • img_5570Volunteering can create lifelong memories while helping make the world a better place.
  • Spoil your student with his or her own comfortable bed and favorite meals while he or she comes home to enhance career prospects through job shadowing, searching out summer internships, or applying for post-graduation employment.

Spring break can be a great time — if your student can avoid overspending that generates a self-inflicted wound leading to a ramen noodle diet until finals end.

You can contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com. 

Before College: Check Out Those Hidden Fees

When checking out the cost of colleges your student may attend, you’ll find their tuition and fee charges on their websites. But understand that these charges only include fees required of all undergraduates.

Students are also subject to other fees — sometimes labeled “discretionary” or img_5527“optional” — that can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. These are “hidden” fees because schools typically don’t include them in their published cost of attendance.

Some hidden fees aren’t really optional. For example, most schools charge for summer orientation sessions to help incoming students get familiar with campus, it’s organizations, and it’s services. But orientation is often when students get their initial academic advising and schedule their first semester classes, too, do missing it may not be advisable.

Similarly, some courses required by your student’s major may have computer fees, course fees, course materials fees, or lab fees.

Still, it’s easy to avoid other optional fees. If your student isn’t interested in intercollegiate athletics, don’t pay athletics or sports ticket fees. If your student doesn’t absolutely need a car on campus, keep it at home — you’ll be surprised how many hundred dollars in parking fees (and how much gas, maintenance, and body damage) this can save each semester.

img_5529So research hidden fees. Search the school’s website for terms such as those listed at the end of this article. Call the admissions or business office and request lists of optional fees. Inquire with others attending the school about fees that surprised them.

Maybe you can’t avoid all hidden fees. But the more you know the better you can include them when analyzing college affordability, and the better you can budget for and plan strategies to minimize them.

College Affordability Solutions can help you analyze the affordability of colleges your student is considering. Contact (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Sometimes Hidden College Fees

  • Academic excellence fees
  • Activities fees
  • Add or drop fees
  • Application processing fees
  • Athletic or sport ticket fees
  • Building use fees
  • Change of schedule fees
  • Chapel fees (private, church-affiliated colleges)
  • Commencement or graduation fees
  • Computer or digital media fees
  • Course fees
  • Course materials fees
  • Convenience or credit card fees
  • Digital media fees
  • Diploma fees
  • General student fees
  • Health center of health service fees
  • Health  insurance premiums
  • ID card replacement fees
  • Lab fees
  • Late registration fees
  • Late payment fees
  • Library fees
  • Legal services fees
  • Library fees
  • Intercollegiate athletics fees
  • Internet or telecommunication fees
  • Matriculation fees
  • Orientation fees
  • Parking fees
  • Recreation center fees
  • Shuttle bus fees
  • Student success fees
  • Student government fees
  • Student services fees
  • Study abroad fees
  • Transportation fees
  • Yearbook fees

 

Before College: Beware of “Bait and Switch”

Bait and switch is a sleazy practice in which some, though not all, supposedly reputable colleges and universities engage. These institutions include some but, again, not all, schools requiring mid-February enrollment deposits from students offered “early admission.”

Here’s how bait and switch works: (1) Unsuspecting freshmen are lured to a school with generous grant and scholarship (gift aid) offers that seem to significantly discount their 4-year cost of attendance. (2) The school manipulates its awards so all thor most of their recipients lose them after a year or two. The cancelled funds are then switched to bait future recruits. (3) Families suffering gift aid reductions must then borrow more or use more of their financial resources to keep their students at the school.

Not surprisingly, colleges don’t publicize bait and switch. You have to look for it before paying your student’s enrollment deposit. Here are some common practices and ways to spot them.

Renewable Non-Renewable Gift Aid

A big grant or scholarship is renewable for 4 years. But its renewal criteria — e.g. GPA, credit hours completed — are so grueling that few students meet them.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ Code of Conduct img_5441requires institutions to disclose grant and scholarship renewal criteria, but the criteria may be obscurely placed or written in a complicated way.

So carefully read the “fine print” on your student’s financial aid award letter or the school’s website, and honestly assess your student’s ability to meet gift aid renewal standards.

The Incredible Shrinking Gift Aid

The overall amount of gift aid awarded drops each year, even if the student’s ability to pay college costs holds steady or decreases.

img_5440To identify this practice, you generally have to pose direct questions to the financial aid staff about whether the school engages in it. Make sure you get clear, comprehensive answers.

Gift Aid Displacement

Gift aid originally awarded decreases as the student brings in other scholarships. They may be outside scholarships, but the financial aid office may also reduce gift aid it awarded due to scholarships from the school’s academic departments. The student typically looses a dollar for every other dollar received.

Federal and state rules sometimes force displacement because they prohibit the receipt of financial aid in excess of cost of attendance. But sometimes displacement is an institutional choice.

Ask the financial aid staff for the order in which it makes reductions if additional scholarships come in. Hopefully it’s unmet financial need first, loans second, and gift aid third. If it’s gift aid first, the school clearly employs displacement.

Need help scrutinizing the financial aid offers you’ve received from colleges and universities? Reach out to College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com. 

During College: Keep Seeking Scholarships

A top university once examined which of its students were outside scholarship recipients. Two facts emerged — freshmen, just 18% of its student body, brought in 44% of of its outside scholarships; upperclassmen, 72% of its enrollees, accounted for just 56% of such awards.

Sure, some providers limit their scholarships to freshman. But others, both on and off-campus, prefer students after their first year. Unfortunately, most students stop looking for scholarships once they go to college.

That’s dumb! Why ignore free money? Here are some scholarship tips for you if you’re already in school:

1. Start looking early and keep looking. Scholarship opportunities get announced year-round, so your search shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Set aside some time to look every week or two.

2. Seek on-campus scholarships. Institutions generally have scholarships for upperclassmen only. Often their colleges, departments, and schools target awards at students who’ve demonstrated persistence and performed well in their majors. Get to know faculty in your major — their recommendations can help. Student organizationsimg_5355 typically reserve their scholarships for currently enrolled students, too.

3. Don’t ignore off-campus providers. These organizations don’t always limit their awards to freshmen, either. And if someone gave you money only for your freshman year, see if they also make awards to continuing students.

4. Use the internet and scholarship search engines. Be specific in internet searches — e.g. “accounting scholarships” or “future accountant scholarships” instead of “college scholarships.” Same for your institution’s scholarship web page, if it has one. On search engines, answer every question, even if it’s optional, to improve your chances of finding matches.

5. Contact providers back home. One study indicated that 20% or fewer students get promising “hits” on search engines. So look in your home town, county, and region for scholarships offered there

6. Don’t dismiss “small” scholarships. A few $100 or $250 scholarships add up.

7. Make your applications stand out. Type anything you don’t just check on an application furnished by the provider. No bizarre or suggestive email address. img_5354

8. Write killer essays. They can be as important as any term paper! So outline, write boldly, and rewrite! Be personally revealing, show your passion, and tell how you “fit” the scholarship you’re after. Proof your content, grammar, and spelling; don’t just rely on spellcheck.

9. Beware of scholarship scams. Never pay a fee for help in your search — it’s generally a rip-off. Review search engine privacy policies and avoid those that disclose (sell) your personal information to marketers and other merchants.

College Affordability Solutions has extensive experience in managing financial aid and scholarship programs. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com to consult it at no charge on any questions you may have about this article.