College Unaffordability Perception: How to Keep it from Wreaking Havoc on Your College Search

When you’re starting the college search, it’s easy to hit a few brick walls.

What’s one of the major not-so-soft landings? 

Yep: The sticker shock that accompanies every website you scan, every pamphlet you read, every conversation you have about college.

How are we going to afford this? How will we pay for this? 

I worked with families for 12 years in college admission and heard all the fears, the frustrations — everything. 

Pervasive Myths About the College Search 

You may already know the pervasive myths about the college search — you may be thinking them yourself already! Check out the top three myths you should strike from your thoughts immediately.

Myth 1: The sticker price is everything.

No! The sticker price is never how much it costs to go to college. One thing that I find really frustrating is that people often take one peek at the “costs” page on a college’s website, gasp, then close out immediately. They freak out right away because the cost is this astronomical figure that they know (or actually think they’ll never be able to pay). 

Think of the sticker price on a car in a car lot. Do you ever pay the sticker price in the window of each car? No! You negotiate, right? 

(By the way, the average cost of a private college always seems to be in line with the same cost of a brand new car. Have you ever noticed that? If you buy a car every year, hold onto the one you have and buy four years of college instead.)

Myth 2: Kids don’t get scholarships unless they’re really, really smart.

I know firsthand that students with not-so-perfect grade point averages get scholarships. In fact, most of the students I know were admitted to college with merit-based scholarships. What’s a merit-based scholarship? A merit-based scholarship is a scholarship that’s not based on need (or income). 

If your student has a “B” average grade point average, your child can get a merit-based scholarship for college in the United States. (You just have to find the right college or university.)

Myth 3: We make too much money to file the FAFSA. Therefore, we can’t afford college.

Nuh-uh. Everyone should file the FAFSA, regardless of the amount of money you make. And filing the FAFSA will only help you. If you want your child to receive work-study, file the FAFSA. If you want your child to get federal student loans (the best loans around because of their low interest rates) you need to file the FAFSA.

It’s also important (and required) to fill out the CSS Profile at certain schools. File both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.

Don’t Let Myths Disrupt Your College Search

You put the cost of college squarely within your reach by choosing financial fit colleges right off the bat. There’s nothing worse than finding out the total cost of a particular college down the road.

Before you and your child put together a list of potential schools, have the “financial fit” conversation with your son or daughter. This way, you’ll both be on the same page and the colleges you choose will reflect what you can afford. 

You can find your strongest merit aid match schools if you use a merit aid search tool like MeritMore.  

Melissa Brock is a 12-year veteran of college admission, founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her free essential timeline and checklist for the college search!

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