Before College: Don’t Let Price Considerations Force Private Schools Off Your List of Potential Colleges — At Least Not Yet!

Anna and Nathan are twins who finished their college freshman year last spring. To protect their institutions, let’s just say that Anna attended University A — a private college receiving no state subsidies — while Nathan enrolled in state-supported public University B.

The total cost — tuition, fees, room, board, books, etc. — for an undergraduate at these universities is vastly different. Last year, it was $52,000 at University A but half that at University B.

Still Anna’s net price — what she and her parents paid after the grants and scholarships she received — was just under $12,000. Nathan’s was a bit above $18,000.

They’re from the same middle-income household, so both qualify for similar federal and state grant amounts. The difference is their scholarships — in this case, institutional scholarships. University A, with a smaller student body but significantly larger endowment, awarded Anna over $30,000 in institutional scholarships. Meanwhile, Nathan got just a $2,500 scholarship from University B. And Universities A and B aren’t the only private and public institutions where these counterintuitive price difference exist.

But there are also well-endowed private colleges and universities whose net prices are much higher than those of their state-supported counterparts. You’ll never know for sure until financial aid offers begin coming in, some of which come as late as next March or April for academic year 2020-21’s prospective freshmen.

The moral is this — don’t cross private universities off your college application list simply because their published total costs are higher than those of public institutions on that list, for private schools may surprise you with large tuition discounts in the form of significant institutional scholarships.

What can you do to improve your chances of winning institutional scholarships at any college or university? Here are some pointers:

  • File Your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Early: The 2020-21 FAFSA becomes available October 1. Next Wednesday you’ll find out how to prepare to complete and submit it on that day or soon thereafter.
  • File the Institution’s Scholarship Application Form As Soon As Possible: Many colleges use their own scholarship applications to supplement the FAFSA. If so, be thorough but timely in submitting them.
  • Apply to Institutions That Are Good Academic Matches for You: If they’re good for you, you may be the sort of student that’s good for them. Anna, wanted to major in music, and was her high school’s leading pianist. University A’s highly rated music department was seeking talented young pianists, so some of Anna’s institutional scholarship dollars came from that department.

Never pick a school that’s unaffordable or a bad match for you. But right now is to early to narrow your options based on cost!

For more pre-college strategies to help keep the net price of your postsecondary education affordable, contact College Affordability Solutions at (512)366-5354 or at

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