As families with high school seniors are finding out, the path to college is paved with misconceptions — especially concerning how to pay for it.
Words that seem to have straightforward meanings — like "cost," "need" and "aid" — turn out to have different meanings in the world of college admissions, and even different meanings between colleges.
It's confusing and daunting, and it means that some students may settle for a seemingly cheaper school when they might have paid less at a costlier one.
From the New York Times:
Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, has introduced a bill that would require colleges to use a uniform financial aid letter, and he plans to introduce another to make the net-price calculators uniform and simpler. Both changes would allow applicants to compare real prices and aid offers in exactly the same terms, but even that might not be enough, Mr. Franken said, because those terms can still be unclear.
"You talk to students, and it's a very common refrain that they didn't really understand what they were getting into," he said. "They can't discern this stuff, and if they can't, that's saying something."
The same article goes on to describe the approach some colleges take when figuring the charges they can apply to a student:
Colleges typically want, in addition to a share of parents' incomes, about 5 percent of the value of their assets, plus 20 to 25 percent of the students' (Penn settles for just 5 percent of student assets). But there are differences in how colleges define assets. Cornell, Stanford, Columbia and Duke, for example, take into account home equity. Harvard and Princeton do not, and neither does the federal formula. New Yorkers might fare better with one of the elite private colleges, nearly all of which consider regional variations in cost of living. High medical expenses and kids in prep school? A few top schools, like Princeton, discount for both. The federal government and state colleges do not.
The kicker is that, when a student qualifies for aid, the "aid" might come in the form of student loans. The debt from those loans is doing serious harm to students' quality of life after they graduate.
"Student loan debt has topped $1 trillion as two-thirds of students graduate with debt," reports Forbes. "There are nearly 37 million student loan borrowers in the United States currently repaying a student loan, according to the Fed. ... It's not just the young 20-something crowd that's burdened with the debt. Over 60% of that $1 trillion is held by those over 30-years-old, 15% is held by those over 50."
"This issue is really starting to affect the economy. Borrowers can't purchase a home because they can't make the down payment, for example," says Anne Johnson, Director of Campus Progress. Others are making their career decisions based on their debt obligations. For instance, borrowers with loads of debt are not entering jobs in the public sector due to high loan payments.
We talk with two authorities about common financial-aid myths and what students and parents need to know.
What college-aid obstacles have you encountered? Leave a comment below.