Before College: Comparatively Shop Before Finalizing College Selection

In November, Greg was accepted to two of his state’s leading public universities — Summit Tech, where his brother Rick is a senior; and Woods State, three hours from his hometown.

In early December, Greg’s parents drove to Summit City for some holiday shopping. Upon returning, they laughingly told Greg about surprising Rick and his girlfriend when, unannounced, they dropped by his apartment near campus. That’s when Greg decided to go to Woods State. “My parents,” he silently thought, “will never drive three hours to ‘drop in’ on me unannounced.”

Early this week, both institutions’ financial aid offers arrived. They’re very similar. In addition to grants and loans, each includes a four-year scholarship worth $5,000 a year.

But Greg’s already selected Woods State (“I want to go somewhere new,” he diplomatically told his parents). So Greg and his mom and dad only glanced at Summit State’s offer.

That’s too bad because, at this pivotal point in college selection, Greg and his parents skipped a crucial step — comparative shopping. By failing to carefully contrast schools and their aid offers, they overlooked some important information. For example:

• Summit Tech’s 2019-20 cost of attendance (COA) will be $25,000 — 10% less than Woods State’s COA. Should costs continue to grow at both schools by 7% per year (the average annual increase at American public universities since 1998), four years at Woods State will cost $12,000 more than at Summit Tech

• His “four-year” scholarships are renewed for upcoming academic years only if Greg meets certain standards listed in the fine print of his financial aid offers. These standards at Woods State include at least a 3.75 GPA, while Summit Tech requires a 3.25 GPA for renewal. Greg’s a good student, but he’s more likely to lose the Woods State scholarship after as little as one year, especially if, like most freshmen, he struggles with emotional, intellectual, and social adjustments that affect his first-year grades.

To comparatively shop for colleges:

• Use financial aid offers to determine the student’s net price at each school;

• Comprehensively review every financial aid offer to avoid the games colleges play when disclosing tuition and fees and other costs, when offering financial aid and when awarding Federal TEACH grants; and

• Take college and student fit into account to reduce the chances of transferring to another institution, which generates extra costs.

Most Americans compare price and other factors before purchasing automobiles. But because higher education is far more costly and important, never finalize college decisions without first comparatively shopping. It can save you a lot. And even if your choice of schools remains unchanged, you’ll have made a fully informed decision.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you need help comparatively shopping for colleges. Students and parents are never charged for consultations with College Affordability Solutions.

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