Monday, January 2, 2012

Beating the High Cost of a College Education - Merit Money

Adding to the list of certainties, death and taxes, we can now add a third, price increases in education. With the average cost of attending a four-year private university at around $40,000, the average cost of attending a four-year public university at around $20,000 and the average cost of attending community college around $7,000, and increasing, there are some ways to help address this issue of increasing costs. One of the best ways to reduce the cost of an education is to capitalize on all the merit money that colleges give away, money that is given away for special talents or leadership and not based on financial need. There are a few ways to capitalize on this money.
1. Position Your Student
When looking at colleges and universities you want to position your student at certain schools where their academic achievement will stand out. Focusing on your student's class rank and scores on the SAT or ACT test you want your student to apply to schools where their statistics will rank them in the top 25% of students being accepted. Schools often reserve special scholarships and grants for students who rank high in achievement based on their list of applicants. The higher your student's achievement in the applicant pool puts them higher on the list for merit aid.
2. Highlight Special Talents
Many schools reserve money for students with special talents. The most common of course is an athletic scholarship. Many schools offer special scholarships for playing certain musical instruments, excelling on the debate team, or generally anyone who has been active in extracurricular activities in high school. Colleges also are interested in students who have exhibited special leadership skills. It is important that you use the college application process to highlight any areas where the school may have a particular interest.
3. Apply out of State
While many parents are not willing to have their student attend college too far away from home, most colleges and universities are looking for geographic diversity in their student body. Especially at schools where the application pool is highly competitive I always tell families that the further away you live from a school the more likely it is you will be accepted. Schools often pay a premium for students who live further away in order to increase diversity on their campus.
4. Ask for a List of Special Scholarships
Although it is becoming less likely that a scholarship will not be awarded, many schools have scholarships that require unique qualifications. Something as simple as living in the right county, or coming from a certain ethnic background can actually win an award. These usually require a special application process. But if you are the only one applying you just may win the award.
While the majority of financial aid is based on need, most colleges and universities also set aside money for individuals with special qualifications. These merit awards can reduce the cost of attending significantly.

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