The cruel cost of college


Rebecca Herz, Staff Writer

Jim is a middle class Schreiber senior.  He adds to his College Board website cart Scholarship Handbook 2013 for $29.99, Getting Financial Aid for $25.99, and Meeting College Costs for $14.95.  He registers for the SAT, charging another $50 to his parents’ credit card, and two $20 SAT subject tests.  Then, Jim fills out three AP Exam registration forms and brings them back to school with three $87 checks.

A few weeks later, when Jim reports his scores, he will pay an $11 fee for every exam he reports to colleges.  If he is unhappy with his scores, he may choose to purchase the $21.99 Official SAT Study Guide and call up an SAT math tutor at $150 per hour.  As of now, the cost for Jim to apply to college is $626.92, and he has not even applied to any schools.  By the time Jim finally applies to his “dream school” in November, the $50 application fee will seem like nothing.

As seniors approach their early decision deadlines, many who easily afforded the preliminary costs without waivers will have to seriously consider financial aid.  Moreover, the family that drives two fancy cars, comfortably supports three kids, and owns a beautiful house may need help paying for college.

In order to determine a student’s financial aid package, colleges take the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the College Scholarship Service forms, known as the CSS profile, into account to calculate a family’s “estimated family contribution,” or EFC.  The college’s total tuition minus the EFC equals a student’s “financial need,” but there is frequently a large gap between what a family can realistically contribute and the “financial need” money that the school actually grants its students.

“I think in today’s society, kids take cost into consideration more seriously because of our economy and other factors such as coming out of school with debt,” said senior Carly Grieco.

Even if families do not have an issue paying the $500-plus cost of college preparation, the $60,000 college tuition price tag can be a serious dilemma, especially for families with more than one child.

Before the recession, many families in Port Washington would have had EFCs so high that they would have prevented them from receiving any need-based aid, forcing them to meet the full cost of attendance.  However, due to the recession and fluctuating family incomes, more families cannot afford the full cost of attending a school and are still finding themselves with a relatively high EFC and relatively low prospects of qualifying for need-based financial aid.

When all is said and done, some simply cannot afford to pay for college even if the complex aid formulas have determined that they can.  An option that many students will consider is merit aid awards that effectively discount or offset the cost of enrollment.  Such merit aid is money that the family does not have to pay back as they would a student loan, but it is also hard to come by.

It is important to note the distinction between merit aid and private scholarships given by organizations and corporations since, in some schools, money from private scholarships is added to the student’s EFC, thereby reducing the amount of need-based aid he or she qualifies for.

A student who has found his or her dream school cannot even apply for federal student aid until January 1, and must wait for their package as application deadlines for their back up schools pass.  If the award cannot cover what the student’s family needs or if that student chooses to appeal financial aid offers, he or she will not be allowed to send transcripts to other colleges.  As that appeal is being processed, chances of that student receiving adequate aid at other schools diminish.  Some students decide that their dream school is worth the price, and will end up taking out significant amounts of loans that will be placed on the back burner until graduation day.

“It’s a tricky question but I think students should be able to apply to their dream schools even if acceptance and much financial aid are unlikely—it is better than not knowing whether you would have gotten financial aid,” said senior Annie Rubin.

For many Schreiber seniors, the choice is still to be made.