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USACollegeChat Podcast

Aug 30, 2018

Well, we are just about done. We are on Step 14, the final step in researching colleges on your son or daughter’s LLCO (that is, one last time, the Long List of College Options). And, one last reminder: Feel free to rush online and get our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available at Amazon). It’s a steal at $9.95! 

Step 14 is, to many people, the most important step and even the only step. I find it ironic that we would end our podcast--for now--on this note and that we would give our last piece of advice about college cost. Why? Because cost is the thing I care about least in helping your kid find a great college. Perhaps it is because I do believe that where there is a will, there is a way. Perhaps it is because borrowing money for college is not something that I find offensive--since I can’t think of a better reason to borrow some. Perhaps it is because I know that college can be a once-in-a-lifetime chance--one chance to do it exactly right. Of course, you can come back to college as an adult and be very successful; but why wait, if you could have made it work right at 18? Perhaps it is because I want every kid to get the best possible start in life and because I believe that a great college choice is that best possible start. Well, enough about me.

We hope that college cost is not the most important step for YOU when deciding where your son or daughter should apply, especially because it is very hard to predict what financial aid you might be able to get from a college, from your state government, from the federal government, and from outside organizations. It is also true that financial aid at a good private college on your kid’s LLCO could make that college as affordable as any good public university on the LLCO. But that is something you won’t know before you apply. We understand that paying attention to cost might be a sensible thing to do; it’s just not the only thing.

1. Tuition and Fees

Finding and understanding tuition and fees on a college website isn’t always as easy as you might expect. College Navigator offers a straightforward table of college costs, but it will be for the preceding year--and not for next year, which is what will matter to you.

And by the way, some college websites display tuition and fees separately, while some provide one combined figure. Try to use a combined tuition-plus-fees figure for each college so that the figures will be comparable from college to college.

Furthermore, some websites display information by term (e.g., by semester, by quarter), while others display information for the full academic year. Make sure you know which you are reading! For example, remember to multiply by 2, if the information you see is for just one semester. (I have actually made that mistake and wondered why the numbers seemed too good to be true!) 

Question 50 asks students to jot down the tuition and fees for the current academic year or, if possible, for the next academic year, and to record the year, too (so you know exactly what you are dealing with).

2. Tuition Incentives

Remember that some colleges have attractive and even compelling tuition incentives, which they will proudly announce on their websites. For example, some colleges freeze tuition for four years at the price a student starts with as a freshman. Some colleges allow students to take an extra semester for free if the college is at fault for not offering, on an accessible enough schedule, all of the courses needed to graduate on time in four years. Some colleges provide generous discounts to students from contiguous states or to students in the region (like the West or the Midwest or New England). It makes sense to see whether each college on your kid’s LLCO has any tuition discount that could help you at any point in your kid’s undergraduate years. Question 51 quite simply asks students to jot down any tuition incentives.

3. Residential Housing Costs

And finally, there is residential housing cost, which College Navigator provides, but again only for the preceding academic year. So again, it is best to go directly to a college’s website to get this information. Obviously, housing cost is important if your kid is planning to live on campus and especially important if a college requires freshmen to live on campus. Even if you think your kid might commute to a college on the LLCO, it won’t hurt to jot down this information, just in case you all change your minds.

Question 52, the final question on the College Profile Worksheet, asks students to jot down the residential housing costs for room and board for freshman year. Keep in mind that there might be a range of housing costs, depending on which facility the student wants to live in, on whether a student wants a single room, on what kind of meal plan is taken, etc. Have your son or daughter write down the cost for the same type of living situation at each college so that you all can compare college costs later.

4. The End

Well, that’s it. 52 questions! A completed College Profile Worksheet for every college on your kid’s LLCO! Now, you are ready to think about where to apply. It’s a great place to leave you.

Marie and I are always ready to answer your individual questions while the podcast is on hiatus for the next couple of semesters. Please email us. Really. I chat with parents in your situation all the time. To make things quicker, let me give you my personal email at Policy Studies in Education, our longtime sponsor. It is Now, you have no excuses.

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