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College is expensive; no one will deny that. According to CollegeBoard, in the past decade alone (2007-2017), tuition rates rose 26% at private nonprofit colleges and 37% at public four-year colleges. Those rates jump to 129% and 213% respectively when comparing current tuition with that of just 30 years ago, accounting for inflation. With no end in sight to the continual increase in the cost of an education, low and middle income students are facing more difficult choices than ever.

The rising cost of academia is forcing us to place a cost value on college education — an invaluable commodity. Is an education worth $45,000 in student loan debt? Is it worth going to your last-choice school because it's the cheapest? Is it worth working two jobs and falling asleep in class to make tuition payments? These are just a few of the questions students must grapple with before setting foot on-campus or enrolling online. And for many, these questions are daunting enough to make them believe that college is not a serious option for them, no matter its value.

Students are experiencing sticker shock. What used to be the affordable options of two- and four-year public colleges are no longer easily paid for by part-time and summer jobs, and the threat of student loan debt looms ever present. For those who don't have significant family financial contributions, college can suddenly seem very out of reach, which is why we wanted to use this edition of our Barriers in Education series to explore one of the largest deterrents to higher education: cost.

Our panel, comprised of college planning and financial aid experts from universities, non-profits, and financial institutions, spoke with us about how we can help students plan for college and take advantage of all the resources available to them. Emphasizing above all that students should wait to see what all their financial offers are before ruling out any schools — sometimes the school you least expect can offer you the most money. We cannot let rising costs become a discouraging barrier for students wishing to gain an education. Read on to learn about resources and support that can help student see the true value of a college education.

Expert Interviews

Scroll through the interviews below to learn more about the vital role cost plays in a student's path to college. Each panelist also provides actionable advice for individuals looking to attend college.

Table of Contents 1 Nancy Lee Sanchez, Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation

Table of Contents

1 Nancy Lee Sanchez, Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation

Look beyond the sticker price -- there is funding available to make high-quality education affordable. Many colleges offer cost calculators to help families get a better idea of the portion they are likely to pay towards their children's educations. This is why it is so important that students take into consideration colleges that offer merit-based and need-based financial assistance, and that these resources are often combined in order to make college more affordable.

By Nancy Lee Sanchez Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation
Learn more about Nancy Lee Sanchez

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE WITH KAPLAN EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION?

As a first-generation student that attended community college, I qualified for financial aid but I was not an informed consumer of education. While my admissions counselor referred me to a financial counselor who helped me apply for financial aid, I did not fully understand how the financial aid process worked. I was thankful to find that I owed no out-of-pocket tuition, but it wasn't explained to me that I also needed money for books, classroom materials, transportation, and other required expenses. During my first semester, I remember getting a syllabus for each of my courses with a listing of books and no understanding of how I was going to purchase them. Like many of my classmates, we worked multiple low-paying jobs to contribute to our household living expenses. For me, the cost of room and board included my mother and my siblings. I didn't know how to apply for work-study, request additional funding, or ask about programs geared towards helping low-income students.

The Kaplan Educational Foundation part of our curriculum provides an understanding of financial aid language, which helps students know what questions to ask as they determine if a school is affordable. I make sure that my students are able to advocate for themselves. Some students I've worked with have been hesitant to apply to highly-selective schools based on the high cost of tuition. Nearly all of our students are Pell Grant eligible, and all receive some sort of state or federal financial aid. While they are familiar with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), most are unaware of the institutional grants provided by top schools to subsidize the higher cost and have never heard of the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile application needed to access that funding.

To truly understand the sources and amount of financial aid you can get, you first have to understand all educational costs for each institution you are considering. You then have to assess the school's commitment toward meeting your financial needs. There are some schools that make a commitment to meet 100% of need without student loans. Some state colleges may waive tuition and fees costs, and some colleges may have specialized institutional aid for non-traditional students. I would argue that no one college, even within a state system, is the same when it comes to available financial aid and the process for accessing available funds.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

Schools will work very hard to provide students who match the profile they are looking for with a competitive merit and need-based financial aid package. This is true for freshmen, and at the Kaplan Educational Foundation we have seen an increased interest in transfer students, evidenced by increasingly larger financial aid packages, as well as improved support services to ensure that transfer students have the same high-quality opportunities and experiences as freshmen students.

When a student looks at the cost of attending a college without assessing the school's ability to meet their financial needs, they don't have all of the information necessary to determine the actual cost to them and their families. When they see a school with a cost of attendance of over $50,000, which is nearly twice that of a local college, the price tag becomes a deterrent. However, when combined with federal and state grants, need-based institutional aid can result in a financial aid package that makes a private, high-cost school more affordable than a public, lower-cost college. This is not readily apparent for students that are not familiar with the system.

For many students, staying at home and commuting to college is seen as a cost-savings option, but the reality is that staying close to home also means they may miss out on considering schools that are most likely to cover a greater percentage of your educational costs, including room and board. Ultimately, the lack of understanding of how financial aid is determined and applied against the total cost of attendance is a major contributing factor for why students feel deterred from applying to colleges, especially those with higher tuitions. Until students have a clear understanding of how financial aid works, how to apply for institutional aid and access fee waivers - this will continue to be the case.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

I have found that many students living in a middle-class household with home ownership and steady income feel they will not quality for financial aid because they do not qualify for Pell Grants. However, financial aid depends on the total cost of attending college. Given the full cost of education, many families that are not Pell eligible may still lack the financial resources to cover the majority of educational costs and may be eligible for grants/loans offered by many schools.

Another major misconception is that schools with lower tuition costs are cheaper to attend. While the sticker price may be lower, these schools often have a smaller pool of funds for financial aid that may increase the financial burden for students and their families. Many schools with larger tuition costs can tap into larger endowments and financial aid resources to provide a lower out-of-pocket cost to students.

Many students focus on getting summer jobs and miss out on free money from scholarships. Many independent organizations, at local and national levels, provide scholarships based on criteria beyond financial means. Students should earmark time to submit these applications - scholarships, unlike loans, do not need to be paid back.

Another misconception is that financial aid packages are fixed. One of the benefits of applying to a solid list of schools is the ability to negotiate financial aid packages. Students may be able to get additional institutional aid by speaking with financial aid advisers. Also, while the applications for FAFSA and CSS Profile ask for financial aid information from specific time periods, situations can change. Students and their families can reach out to provide context on changes to income that may improve financial aid packages from year-to-year.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION? HOW DOES THIS AFFECT LOW-INCOME FAMILIES? MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES?

For low-income families, students are often responsible for a portion of the household bills and/or serve as caregivers for siblings or other family members. In these situations, families need to consider the short-term and long-term implications of students attending college. Students need to weigh the short-term sacrifices of leaving the household with the potential long-term income gains associated with degree completion. Students also have to choose between volunteer or unpaid internships that increase experience and low-paying, hourly jobs to cover education expenses.

Families, both low and middle-income, often choose which colleges they want their kids to apply to based on what they see as the full cost of college attendance. This can sometimes discourage their student's chances of maximizing financial aid and finding the best fit.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

Look beyond the sticker price -- there is funding available to make high-quality education affordable. Many colleges offer cost calculators to help families get a better idea of the portion they are likely to pay towards their children's educations. This is why it is so important that students take into consideration colleges that offer merit-based and need-based financial assistance, and that these resources are often combined in order to make college more affordable.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

You need to prepare for the college admissions process and put time and effort into researching the schools that are the best fit for your academic and financial needs and apply to a range of schools. There are many options and resources available to fund your education. Don't hesitate to ask for help.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE KAPLAN EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION'S TO PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THE COST OF COLLEGE?

The knowledge needed to successfully navigate the financial aid process is not intuitive, and access to financial aid is a major barrier to college completion, especially for first-generation college students and other students for whom college affordability is an issue.

Organizations like the Kaplan Educational Foundation provide resources to navigate the financial aid process. This levels the playing field of college access for low-income and middle-class families.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU SEE THE HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT'S YOU WORK WITH ARE SUPPORTING STUDENTS APPLYING TO COLLEGE, SPECIFICALLY FINANCIAL AID?

We visit high schools in NYC, and have found that many schools have FAFSA completion dates. Community-based organizations are key partners in offering volunteers to provide organized FAFSA support services. Finding out that there is a cost to complete the CSS Profile, without knowing that there is a waiver process, may lead some students to not apply for admission or financial aid from schools that may be able to provide a larger financial aid package. Identifying colleges that are best suited to provide financial aid is a key part of offering financial aid counsel to students. Identifying schools based on low cost is not enough.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

A student's ability to complete a college degree -- and one with out-of-classroom activities, such as internships, research, extracurricular and leadership skills development -- are often connected to that student being secure in the financial resources they have to fully engage in their studies.

A college's reputation is often connected to its ability to graduate the students it enrolls, and prepare graduates who are career ready. Colleges must work to provide students a full understanding of the types of financial aid available and make sure students understand the responsibilities that come with taking on student loans. Responsible student loan borrowing is usually based on a student that fully maximizes all forms of aid, self-advocates, and understands the timeline for repayment and how it will affect their career goals.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

The U.S. Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center includes college score cards and a net price calculator to help students and families estimate the true cost of a college education.

For high school students and their families, it is important that they understand a college's commitment to provide merit and need-based financial aid and the school's policies on student loans.

Visiting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at www.FAFSA.ED.Gov is also a great resource. It explains the documents needed for submission, presents the different types of financial aid offered by the U.S. Federal government, and begins the process for state financial aid.

Go to the www.CSSProfile.CollegeBoard.Org for information on this form which is utilized by many colleges in order to access non-federal financial aid.

For transfer students, I just published a book, Your 2018 Guide to College Transfer. This guide offers specific information about 90 profiled schools, as well as guidance on admissions, financial aid policies, and housing for non-traditional students. These may include students with dependents, military veterans, and DACA or undocumented students. For free transfer resources, go to www.kaplanedfoundation.org.

ANY FINAL THOUGHTS FOR US?

Securing student financial aid doesn't necessarily start with a scholarship search or completion of the FAFSA. Start by targeting a broad range of colleges and understanding each school's commitment to providing financial aid. Make sure you are aware of the school's opportunity programs, which may supplement financial aid by providing allowances or waiving certain fees.

About Nancy Lee Sanchez

Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation Nancy Lee Sánchez is Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation and the author of Your 2018 Guide to College Transfer. She is responsible for the design and implementation of the Kaplan Leadership Program, a community college to four-year advisement model preparing students for a lifetime of socially conscious professional leadership. Nancy has over 18 years of expertise opening access to higher education, improving the college experience, and supporting leadership in low-income and nontraditional students. She earned an associate in early childhood education at Kingsborough Community College, a bachelor's in education from Long Island University, and a master's in sociology from Brooklyn College. A National Hispanic Executive Leadership Fellow, she completed leadership programs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and at the Center for Creative Leadership. Born in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, Nancy currently resides in Brooklyn.

2 Nick Ducoff, Co-Founder and CEO of Edmit

The biggest misconception about paying for college is that you will pay the sticker price. Hardly anyone pays the sticker price -- in fact, just between 1% and 12% of first-time freshman pay full tuition. Almost everyone receives some form of financial assistance and/or merit aid.

By Nick Ducoff CEO of Edmit
Learn more about Nick Ducoff

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE?

My co-founder and I both left our jobs at universities to launch Edmit because we saw a real need for better information in the college decision-making process. Today consumers are forced to make one of the most important decisions of their lives with incomplete data, and we saw a way to change that. We realized that more accurate and personalized pricing information was possible, but that it wasn't being served up to students and families. In the same way that Truecar or Zillow analyze market data to inform buyers on fair pricing and the true value of those investments, Edmit creates price and value transparency around higher education.

In my time as V.P. at Northeastern University and my co-founder Sabrina Manville's time as A.V.P. at Southern New Hampshire University, we saw over and over how much unnecessary duress families went through trying to understand what they would need to pay, and whether or not they could afford their child's dream school. We are providing a way for families to see what a college's true cost would look like for them.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

If you browse any news website today, you're likely to find stories of sky-high tuition prices. Right below that you'll see headlines about Millennials saddled with six-figure debt, working as baristas and living at home with their parents. That narrative is playing out in students' decision-making; a recent poll found that 40% of students who declined their “dream school” did so because of price-related concerns.

But the real issue is the lack of transparency around what college actually costs. Without real transparency around price and value we'll unfortunately continue to see students miss out on college opportunities -- arguably the best investment one can make in their future.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

The biggest misconception about paying for college is that you will pay the sticker price. Hardly anyone pays the sticker price -- in fact, just between 1% and 12% of first-time freshman pay full tuition. Almost everyone receives some form of financial assistance and/or merit aid. Edmit helps students more accurately estimate what they are likely to pay based on what others like them have received in aid from that college and similar colleges in recent years.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION?

The unfortunate reality is that there aren't many choices. If a student has an expected family contribution greater than zero and they don't receive scholarships, then they will have to come up with the cash or take out loans. This affects everyone at all income levels.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

I wish everyone thought about college as an investment and evaluated it like you would any other investment. What is this going to cost? Am I paying a fair price? What can I expect the return to be? Is this a good value? I wish students and parents/guardians knew to ask these questions, sought answers to them before making their decision, and weighed the answers appropriately in making their decision.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

My advice would be to make sure you know which colleges will provide a good value and apply to those. You might be surprised what financial and merit aid you will receive, so use multiple resources, such as the College Scorecard and Edmit, to research costs. Always fill out the FAFSA, even if you don't think they will qualify for financial aid.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

Universities should be more transparent, helping students clearly understand the actual total costs of attending. Many colleges overcomplicate decision-making by including federal loans in their financial aid awards. That doesn't help anyone.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE EDMIT TO PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THE COST OF COLLEGE?

College pricing is confusing and abstract, making it extremely difficult for students to understand how much they are paying. With a more concrete sense of the cost, students and their families can better budget for their education. Rooting the costs in reality can help make the experience and degree feel more attainable.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

There are a lot of great forums online for students and their support systems to do their homework. For example, there's College Confidential, Reddit, and Facebook groups such as Paying for College 101, which has over 20,000 members and an active community.

ANY FINAL THOUGHTS FOR US?

I wish as much time and consideration was spent on evaluating college choice as an investment, as is spent on saving and paying for college.

About Nick Ducoff

CEO of Edmit Nick Ducoff is the co-founder and CEO of Edmit, a platform that compares the cost and value of college and helps negotiate college tuition among your top college choices. He was previously Northeastern University's vice president for new ventures. At Northeastern, Nick founded the Experiential Network, which has served over two thousand students with real-world projects from 800 employers. He also launched the first university bootcamp, Level, which was recognized as an exemplar innovation by the U.S. Department of Education. Nick previously co-founded Infochimps, which was acquired by CSC (NYSE: DXC), and was a Vice President at Boundless, which was acquired by Follett. He earned his J.D., with Honors, at the University of Texas at Austin, and his BBA at Emory University's Goizueta Business School.

3 Ivette Chavez, Lead Financial Services Coordinator for CAP

Apply! Never close the door on a potential opportunity due to the unknown. A college degree opens many doors and there are many opportunities to find funding for college. The first step in the process is to apply to college.

By Ivette Chavez Lead Financial Services Coordinator for CAP
Learn more about Ivette Chavez

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE?

I was a first-generation college student, thus the college admission and financial aid application processes were very daunting to me. I had very little, to no awareness about how to finance my college education. My high school counselor was there to provide me the resources I needed to apply and be accepted to college. However, there was never much discussion about how I would pay for college.

The day I arrived on campus as a freshman at UC Berkeley, I did not know who was paying for my college education. All I knew was that I had signed various documents and had a dorm room, food, and my classes were paid for. It was not until the end of my Sophomore year in college I learned I was taking out student loans to fund my education. When I read my financial aid award letter I interpreted “Financial Aid” to mean free money for college. I will never forget feeling so alone and ashamed for not understanding something that seemed to be so simple. In tears, I vowed I would work hard to ensure this never happened to another student.

I want to educate students about their college finances and ensure they are well equipped with the knowledge they need to make wise decisions. Through the Making Waves Foundation College and Alumni Program, I have developed a robust series of financial literacy workshops that takes a student and his/her family through their senior year of high school. The year of education, training, and preparation tackles the college financial aid process. The programming is broken down into student/parent educational presentations and workshops, senior seminars, one-on-one meetings, and quarterly newsletters. By the end of the senior year students and their families will be able to identify and understand:

- Distinct types of colleges/universities
- Actual college costs
- Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
- Different types of financial aid
- How to apply for financial aid and the different forms that must be completed
- How to read a financial aid award letter
- How to save for college
- How to apply for scholarships
- How to make a college decision based on the best financial fit
- How to create and stick to a budget
- How to complete financial aid verification documents

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

Sticker shock is a major deterrent for many students and families when it comes to college. They see a very large number and right away think they cannot afford it. However, I believe through educating students and their families about the cost of college and how to interpret financial aid awards, there can be a shift in the mindset of many. I have seen first hand how many parents are unaware how financial aid works. Many think because they make a certain amount of income per year, they will not qualify for financial aid. I believe removing those misconceptions through education will lead to more low-income, first-generation students applying to college.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

My students often ask me, “Ms. Chavez, can I file as 'independent' on my FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) so I can get more financial aid money?” This is the number one misconception many students and families have about paying for college. They believe if the student claims an “independent” status on the FAFSA they will be awarded a “full-ride” or full scholarship to college. Claiming to be independent on the FAFSA does not grant you a full-ride to college. Many students and families are not aware of the strict guidelines for claiming “independent” on the FAFSA.

Another misconception is how the “EFC” or Expected Family Contribution works. Many families see that number on the FAFSA Student Aid Report and immediately think they cannot afford college. If the EFC for a family is $5,000, it does not necessarily mean they will have to pay that amount directly to the school. Within our program, College and Alumni Program (CAP), we take the time to educate both the student and parent so they are informed to make the right choices. We meet one-on-one with families after they file the FAFSA to discuss their EFC and how it translates from their financial aid award letter to the family's out-of-pocket expense.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION? How does this affect low-income families? Middle-class families?

As the cost of attending college rises, many families are reluctant to have their child apply to out-of-state colleges. I see many middle-class parents encourage their children to attend a local college or university to save on the housing expenses and avoid student loans. In some situations, this might not be a bad option for a family, however, when a student is receiving a sizeable financial aid award package, and the family is still reluctant to have their child move away, it can hinder the student's social and emotional growth. I often see these situations with low-income families because they lack the understanding about how to finance a college education. It is my job to ensure they understand where the money is coming from and how it is going to be applied toward their cost of attendance. Additionally, it's important they are clear about the role student loans should or should not play in their decision making process.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

Many families live paycheck-to-paycheck, so it can be very difficult for them to save for their child's college education. However, I wish every student and parent realized the importance of saving what they can early on -- even if it is a few dollars each month. This could also help to offset all of the additional expenses that come in the senior year of high school. Aside from prom, yearbook purchases, and graduation celebrations, there are other non-social activities to pay for, such as college applications, standardized test fees, housing deposits, enrollment deposits, and freshman orientation fees. Many families are unaware of these costs and struggle to make these payments when the time comes. Saving little by little in advance can ease some of the financial strain during the student's senior year.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

Apply! Never close the door on a potential opportunity due to the unknown. A college degree opens many doors and there are many opportunities to find funding for college. The first step in the process is to apply to college. Make sure that you have a well-balanced college list. Choose colleges/universities that range in cost, including some more affordable options, like in-state schools or even community colleges in your area.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE CAP TO PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THE COST OF COLLEGE?

Our College and Alumni Program has an unique approach to educating parents and students. We are very detailed and targeted to the population we serve. We are fortunate to have an entire staff dedicated specifically to educating students and families about college finances. Our team takes each student and family through the entire college financial aid process from beginning to end. From setting up an FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID pin to completing the FAFSA and CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile, all the way through verification. This is very important to do with families whether they are first-generation college bound families or not. The entire process can be overwhelming and stressful so it is very important for students and families to feel supported. CAP is their “life-line” during the college financial aid process. We are available to answer their questions, provide guidance, offer resources and sometimes, just listen.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU SEE THE HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT'S YOU WORK WITH ARE SUPPORTING STUDENTS APPLYING TO COLLEGE, SPECIFICALLY FINANCIAL AID?

I have had the pleasure to sit on the Advisory Board for the Richmond Promise, a community-based scholarship fund, alongside members of the local school district and learn about their practices in supporting students with the financial aid process. There is a recurring theme arising in these conversations regarding the lack of understanding from students and families about the importance of completing the FAFSA. Many schools are not able to provide parent/student education about attending college and paying for it. In turn, when senior year arrives, there are not many students applying for financial aid. If districts had the capacity to adopt the CAP senior year financial literacy programming, we could potentially see greater numbers of students applying for financial aid.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

When a student begins to struggle with paying for school they are at a considerable risk of dropping out of college, and the chances of them returning to complete their degree decrease as time goes by. I do believe a college/university should support its students in finding resources to help them pay for college. Whether that is scholarship workshops, directing the student to resources in the community, or helping the student appeal for more aid. There needs to be some shared responsibility with the institution if the appropriate financial literacy education was not provided to the student/ family prior to them committing to the institution.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

The Federal Student Aid website has many resources for students and parents. They provide a lot of information on several types of financial aid along with calculators to project the overall cost of attending college and the EFC (Expected Family Contribution). In addition, some states offer their own financial aid programs, and many community colleges may offer fee waivers for tuition and fees for in-state residents. Also, community-based organizations may offer resources to students including scholarship opportunities. Students and parents should also inquire with their school's college counselor for resources that will help them plan for their child's college education. Lastly, if families want to start saving for college, they should reach out to their financial institution and schedule an appointment to meet with an associate to discuss which products they have available to help them save for college. Many banks and credit unions offer college savings accounts that make it convenient for a family to transfer funds from their checking account to a college savings account.

ANY FINAL THOUGHTS FOR US?

It would be beneficial to all involved if financial aid training were part of the professional development of college counselors. Their caseloads are often large, and they don't have the capacity or resources to assist with all of their students applying for college and financial aid. Additionally, “summer melt” (the phenomenon of students who enroll in college in the spring, but do not attend in the fall) could be helped by college counselors working in the summer months. Obviously, we dream big about systemic changes at CAP!

About Ivette Chavez

Lead Financial Services Coordinator for CAP Ivette Chavez is the Lead Financial Services Coordinator for CAP, a nonprofit program that helps low-income and historically-underrepresented college students graduate quickly and with as little debt as possible. On average, CAP students borrow $529 in federal loans annually, which is 80% less than the national average of $2,593 in federal loans for undergraduate students. Ms. Chavez leads a team of financial services coordinators who work with more than 500 students to develop a holistic financial plan to afford college. With twelve years of experience in this line of work, Ms. Chavez also has a bachelor's degree from UC-Berkeley and a master's degree in public administration, organizational management and policy analysis from Cal State-East Bay.

4 Ted Gonder, CEO and Co-Founder at Moneythink

It's okay to ask for help in assessing options; you don't have to be alone in the journey. Reach out to your student's high school, reach out to your city's education department and ask to speak with experts who can advise you on your student's college options. You can even look for help online.

By Ted Gonder CEO and Co-Founder at Moneythink
Learn more about Ted Gonder

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE?

In 2008, after seeing the ways the economic recession was affecting the Chicago communities around our University of Chicago campus, a group of friends and I decided to form a student organization that would work to improve the economic health of these areas through near-peer mentorship and financial education. Moneythink started out as a volunteer initiative that placed college mentors in local high school classrooms to teach students basic financial literacy and soon evolved into a national movement with chapters at over two dozen campuses across the U.S. By 2010, we were an established 501(c)3 nonprofit with a full-time staff.

Since then, Moneythink has been continuously learning from our experiences in the classroom, and has begun focusing our curriculum and programming on how to prepare and educate students for the financial challenges inherent to the college matriculation process. Through our College Financial Coaching program, we provide personalized college and financial decision-making support to students via text-message. We are able to bring financial information directly to a student's fingertips and support them when they need us most -- outside of the classroom, when they are making the most important financial decisions that can impact the rest of their lives.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

Students who are responsible for funding their own college tuitions or those from under-resourced backgrounds are often deterred by the high costs of attending college because of the large financial burden it will put, not only on them, but also on their families. The fear of taking on such a large amount of debt to receive an education can often outweigh the desire to apply for a more selective college or even to earn a degree at all. Additionally, many schools provide inaccurate estimates to incoming students about how much it will cost to attend college and pay for living expenses, often underestimating to the order of thousands of dollars per semester. When a student arrives on campus and receives their first few bills, they are often surprised to find that the costs are much higher than they originally anticipated. This unexpected shock can derail a student's college trajectory and make them, and their loved ones, think college is the wrong decision for them.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

Students do not realize the true cost of attending college as many schools are not upfront about what the full costs of attendance are. Therefore, students are left only looking at tuition and room/board; they aren't adding things like fees or health insurance that are required by the school, or everyday expenses like books and transportation. Many schools also only share the minimum or average costs for room and board. Schools can offer housing and meal plans with widely varying costs, but some students may not have the option to choose those cheaper plans (e.g. the cheapest plan is for a dorm reserved for athletes or upperclassmen). Furthermore, some students and their families don't have the context to properly assess what “affordable" is.

We have encountered students who say a school is too expensive because they'll need to take $1K / year out in loans, and others who say that $10K+ / year isn't a lot. Additionally, when students do receive financial aid, they assume it will cover 100% of their costs and are surprised when they are left with a “gap”, even after getting grants, loans, or other scholarships. They do not realize that they are responsible for covering the gap on their own and that their school may not be in a position to help.

Lastly, some students don't know how to literally pay for college. For example, many don't know that they will need to start paying for school immediately. They assume that they will be billed all at once, or at the end of the school year or even after graduation. They are taken off-guard when they receive their first tuition bill at the start of their first semester, or sometimes even that summer. Financial aid itself can also be confusing as students don't know how to accept or apply their financial aid to their bills. They assume a statement telling them their tuition and fees costs is actually a bill and that they have to pay for more out-of-pocket than needed, or they get a refund check from their aid and spend it before realizing that it needs to be applied towards a bill that hasn't been sent yet.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION? HOW DOES THIS AFFECT LOW-INCOME FAMILIES? MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES?

Many students are choosing schools solely based on cost, and some families are hesitant to send their children to school at all. We've talked to parents who are reluctant to send a second child to an expensive school after seeing the costs from their first college-bound child. These factors are leading students to under-match or pass up their ideal school because they don't think they can afford something better; this includes many going to community college first to avoid paying for a 4-year school. Many plan to eventually transfer to a four-year college, but the reality is that many stop after receiving their associate degree, and even more drop out altogether.

Additionally, students are working more and more in order to pay for school. This includes both direct (tuition, etc.) and indirect (transportation, clothes, etc.) costs. Some students are stretched thin trying to balance work and classes, even when they are working within the recommended range of 20 hours/week. However, a lot of students end up working significantly more hours, sometimes at multiple jobs. Not only that, but students' families are having to work more or cut back spending in order to help pay for the child's cost of schooling, which can cause incredible financial stress. These high costs can also take students off-guard once they've started school, leading them to have to take on more debt via loans, transfer to a cheaper school, or drop out altogether. And for students who take out loans, they are graduating with higher levels of debt, thus beginning their professional careers at a deficit. This in turn can affect the locations and types of jobs that a student pursues.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

It's okay to ask for help in assessing options; you don't have to be alone in the journey. Reach out to your student's high school, reach out to your city's education department and ask to speak with experts who can advise you on your student's college options. You can even look for help online. Services like Moneythink, uAspire, Edquity, and others exist to make it easier for students and parents to understand where students can really get the best deal and where they are most likely to succeed.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

Attending college and affording it is absolutely possible, but it takes deliberate effort to do the research and get financial aid. Start by filing your FAFSA early and accurately -- there is more aid available to you than you might think! Take the time to do your research on scholarships and other forms of aid that may be out there. And when you do arrive on campus, be smart about your budget and know your limitations.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE YOURS TO PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THE COST OF COLLEGE?

For most of the students we work with, there is no reliable source of guidance or support in their life to turn to when navigating the costs of college. Often times these students are the first in their families to go to college and their parents may lack up-to-date knowledge about the intricacies of grants, loans, scholarships, or the bureaucratic procedures of student aid. High school counselors are overwhelmed by the number of student caseloads they must manage, lacking the time or resources to provide adequate guidance and attention to address individual student situations. Lastly, universities themselves cannot always be trusted to provide accurate and unbiased information to students about costs. Thus, it is incredibly important for resources like Moneythink to exist to help fill in the gaps students encounter and keep them on their college-going path.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

Universities have both a strategic and a moral imperative to support students struggling to pay for college. It's in the interest of any university holding itself to a high standard to keep its students enrolled and on-track; it's also perhaps not as hard or expensive as some less progressive universities might think. Universities like Georgia State have seen huge returns on relatively small interventions and offerings. One example is for universities to offer emergency aid in the form of small grants or loans to students; most of the financial difficulties that lead students to drop out each year are due to issues of less than $1,500, and are very resolvable.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

When first looking to fund an education, it's important to look at the college websites themselves, as well as scholarship search websites and applications. Oftentimes schools will provide information about local scholarship opportunities such as ones that are merit or subject-based, or school-specific. Check in with a school's financial aid office, too, as sometimes there are grants or scholarships that schools can offer that aren't well advertised.

The financial aid office can also help you understand the process and timeline for tuition billing (e.g. how to enroll in payment plans, when each bill is due, etc.). Many communities offer local scholarships or programs via a student's high school or community center and contacting local community based organizations can help students identify them. Additionally, making sure to complete one's FAFSA application early and accurately can increase the amount of aid you receive. The FAFSA is a complex process, but it enables a student to be eligible for an abundance of scholarship and grant opportunities. And of course, you can always turn to organizations like Moneythink or websites like www.imfirst.org to find support and guidance throughout your college exploration!

ANY FINAL THOUGHTS FOR US?

Students and their families should always remember to advocate for themselves! Funding a college education can be complicated and confusing, but each person's college journey is unique. You may encounter multiple hurdles, but by speaking up for yourself and ensuring that your voice and situation is heard and recognized, you can overcome those obstacles and you can afford and attain a college education.

About Ted Gonder

CEO and Co-Founder at Moneythink Ted Gonder is co-founder and current CEO of Moneythink. In 2014, he was appointed by former President Obama to advise the U.S. Treasury and Department of Education on youth financial education issues. Prior to Moneythink, Ted served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, advising the Obama Administration on immigration policy for foreign entrepreneurs. Ted got his start in social entrepreneurship leading a number of climate-change-related student initiatives, most notably serving as student adviser to The Climate Project, an organization founded by Al Gore. Ted has also played an active role as a community builder, founding the World Economic Forum's Chicago Global Shapers Hub, as well as the University of Chicago Entrepreneurship Society. His work has been featured on MTV and in the Wall Street Journal and Crain's; he has spoken at the White House, U.S. Senate, NYSE, TEDx, and at companies such as PwC, IDEO, Dell, and Allstate.

5 Jacob Randolph, Questbridge Scholar, Stanford University

There are countless college access organizations out there. I would suggest doing a quick Google search of these organizations. Look at their programs and requirements, and determine which ones seem like the best fit for you.

By Jacob Randolph Questbright Scholar, Stanford University
Learn more about Jacob Randolph

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND YOUR PATH TO COLLEGE?

As a first-generation/low-income student, I struggled navigating through the complex application and financial aid processes of colleges. With the help of QuestBridge, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to higher education for low-income students, I was lucky enough to receive a full scholarship to Stanford University, where I am currently a junior majoring in political science and communication.

Since starting college, I have continued to work with QuestBridge to mentor and guide college-bound seniors through the college application process and encourage them to not let socioeconomic status define their future. I also serve on Stanford's University Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, where I provide the student perspective on issues of access facing applicants and current students. Currently, I work with Edmit, a startup dedicated to providing greater price and value transparency for college-bound students by allowing them to compare and improve their financial aid awards. After navigating through the process myself, I became increasingly passionate about expanding access to higher education for all students, and working to knock down the financial barriers that often prevent low-income students from pursuing top universities.

WHAT WERE SOME OF THE BIGGEST DIFFICULTIES YOU FACED IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS?

​Overcoming the steep learning curve that is associated with the college application process was definitely difficult. High schoolers are expected to make one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives, while being bombarded with so much information on colleges, financial aid, and scholarships. Luckily, I had a strong support system of teachers, counselors, and family that was able to help me through the process and provide me with information about resources like QuestBridge, which helped eliminate the financial barriers to access that so many high schoolers face. It is absolutely critical that students from low-income backgrounds have these resources and this support as they navigate through this process, and I have spent the past couple of years working to make this a reality.

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE QUESTBRIDGE SCHOLARS PROGRAM?

My​ ​high school​ ​counselor happened to receive a brochure in the email about the program, and gave it me during a meeting I had with her. Nobody from my high school had applied in the past, so I applied to the program not knowing much about it. Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the best decisions I ever made​. QuestBridge provided me with the resources and support necessary to apply and be admitted to a top university like Stanford.

HOW CAN OTHER STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT SIMILAR PROGRAMS THAT FIT THEIR BACKGROUNDS AND ACADEMIC GOALS?

There are countless college access organizations out there. I would suggest doing a quick Google search of these organizations. Look at their programs and requirements, and determine which ones seem like the best fit for you. They offer a variety of support, but all share the same mission: expanding access to higher education for all students.

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR INTERNSHIP AND EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE?

In November of last year, I started working with Edmit, a startup dedicated to providing full price and value transparency for students applying to college. Edmit's site allows students to compare the cost of different colleges; information about estimated debt and earnings; and an estimate of how much financial aid they would receive based on GPA, test scores, zip code, and other data points. Edmit also provides students with the support necessary to request more aid from colleges, a feature that gives students more of a say in the financial aid process. During my time at Edmit, I have created and fostered partnerships with college access organizations to ensure that Edmit is accessible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and that they receive critical feedback from proven leaders in the field. I have found it incredibly fulfilling to provide students with the resources and support necessary to overcome the financial barriers that prevents so many from pursuing higher education.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

Applying to college and preparing yourself for an entirely new chapter of your life is already overwhelming for students. Once you add on the sticker price of college tuition and expenses, students are rightfully discouraged and worried about being able to pay for their college education. College is the first major financial decision students have to make in their lives.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

Take advantage of sites like Edmit that help you calculate cost of attendance and estimated aid for the schools you want to attend. The National Center for Education Statistics has a great college navigator tool that allows you to look at aid estimates for universities based on income range.

Create a preliminary list of private and public universities that you are interested in, and do your research to determine what each school may cost. Use this as a guide, but always apply to a few universities that may seem out of reach financially, because you never know what aid they may offer.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

I believe that universities should do everything in their power to knock down every financial barrier to access that exists within their respective institutions. College can be stressful, and that stress is only multiplied for low-income students struggling to find the money to pay for basic living expenses while in college.

About Jacob Randolph

Questbright Scholar, Stanford University Jacob is a junior at Stanford majoring in political science and communication, He plans to attend law school after his undergraduate career. His interests include​ nonprofit management​, ​public relations, and policy making. His prior experience includes work with community-based organizations, congressional offices, campaigns, and ​college access organizations. Outside of Stanford, Jacob served as a delegate representing Congressional District 35 at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and currently represents CA Assembly District 47 as a delegate to the California Democratic Party. In the future, he hopes to further involve himself in congressional and presidential campaigns, ​nonprofits ​focused on college access, and politics and policymaking at the state and federal level​.​

6 Abril Hunt, Manager of Outreach and Financial Literacy for ECMC

People really need to think outside the box when it comes to scholarships. They also need to look in their own backyard first. Local scholarships may be smaller, but they add up, and competition is less fierce. I tell all my students to get on Google and search their hobbies, accomplishments, and interests that are unrelated to school along with the word 'scholarship'.

By Abril Hunt Manager of Outreach and Financial Literacy for ECMC
Learn more about Abril Hunt

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH ECMC HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE?

I have been counseling students with challenges related to paying for and staying in college for two decades. I have worked at two-year, four-year, and graduate schools, as well as a career college. When working with students and their parents on issues related to paying for school I regularly draw from the challenges I had as a first-generation student.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

It's a lot of money! Traditional students have a hard time getting past the sticker shock of a four-year degree. You can explain the cost vs. benefits, but many don't have enough life experience to relate. I also think there is a fear of the unknown and all the “what ifs” – What if I run out of money? What if I flunk out? What if I can't find a job after graduation? What if I lose my job and can't afford to repay my loans?

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

Many people think there is only one path to college graduation. However, not all students attend full time for four years, especially non-traditional and commuter students who have to balance work, family, and school. Students may also choose to study half time or three-quarters time and take a semester or two off to work and save money. Many schools offer a tuition discount for students taking between 12 and 18 credits. That could be two extra classes per term, which accelerates your pace towards a degree.

Another misconception students have is that they won't qualify for financial aid. This is probably the most pervasive myth out there. While it's correct that there is an income threshold for need-based aid, all FAFSA filers, regardless of their parents' income, qualify for unsubsidized direct loans and PLUS loans. It's so important to fill out the FAFSA every year regardless of your current income. You never know what the future holds. It also is helpful to work with a financial aid counselor, who can help you complete the form.

Students also think they have to be a straight-A student to qualify for scholarships. It's true that colleges and universities offer academic-based scholarships, but those aren't the only scholarships out there. You can still win scholarships even if your grades aren't stellar. In fact, very few private scholarships are based on academic performance. Scholarship sponsors look for students who best match their unique criteria. They might be looking for artistic ability, athletic talent, overcoming obstacles, or even something a bit unusual. People really need to think outside the box when it comes to scholarships. They also need to look in their own backyard first. Local scholarships may be smaller, but they add up, and competition is less fierce. I tell all my students to get on Google and search their hobbies, accomplishments, and interests that are unrelated to school along with the word 'scholarship'. One of the coolest scholarships I have seen a student earn was for her essay on knitting a sweater. When I was in school, I had a scholarship from the American Quarter Horse Association and I didn't even own a horse!

A final common misconception is the belief that colleges will reduce a student's financial aid package when they receive a private scholarship. That's not exactly true. Federal regulations prohibit schools from awarding aid in excess of the student's total cost of attendance. If a student has a financial aid package that meets 100% of their cost of attendance and a private scholarship comes in, it creates an over-award. In that situation, the private scholarship funds will be used to reduce loans or work study. It is possible for a student to bring in so many private scholarships that the school might reduce its own grant funds. However, that is not a hard and fast rule. The bottom line is that replacing loans with scholarships reduces the student's cost of attendance because loans have to be repaid while scholarships do not.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION? HOW DOES THIS AFFECT LOW-INCOME FAMILIES? MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES?

For middle-income families, I am seeing a lot more who are choosing local colleges so that their students can live at home and commute to save money. Some families are choosing to send their student to community college for two years, rather than directly to a four-year institution. I am also seeing fewer families who have the capacity (or desire) to borrow PLUS loans for undergraduate students to attend private, independent colleges. For most truly low-income families, the PLUS Loan is just not an option, so any financial aid gaps really limit their choices. This is why low-income families in Rhode Island, Tennessee, and my home state of Oregon, are loving the tuition-free community college options. San Francisco and New York offer similar programs. Louisiana, Arkansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota have varying tuition-free options for students studying in high-demand fields.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

For parents especially, the first thing I make sure they understand is that a LOT has changed since they were in school. The days of being able to work a summer job to save money for the next year's tuition are long gone. In addition, the cost of college has increased more than 150% in the last 20 years. Unfortunately, increases to financial aid and personal income have not kept pace with rising tuition costs. That leaves a gap for most families that is difficult to address if they wait until their senior year of high school to prepare.

Early awareness and financial literacy play a vital role in academic and financial preparedness for college. I encourage high school students to start looking for scholarships their junior year. They can't apply at that point, but they can get all of their documents ready. Many students come to school expecting to continue living their parents' lifestyle and the adjustment to living frugally is a foreign and unpleasant concept. However, it's vital to their quality of life after graduation. The adage “live like a student when you're a student or you'll live like a student once you've graduated” has stuck around for so long because it's true. Manicures and sushi nights are absolute budget busters for college students.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

Know your bottom line. College is the second largest financial investment you'll make in your lifetime, and yet the total costs aren't always clear from the outset. When it comes to financial aid award letters, not all colleges include direct and indirect expenses in the total Cost of Attendance (COA). While most schools outline baseline tuition and fees, some omit certain “indirect expenses” like room and board, textbooks, meals, and transportation. In addition, not knowing how much a full year of college will cost makes it difficult to put an aid letter in context. If the aid letter you recieve doesn't include an itemized expense breakdown or excludes the COA altogether, don't hesitate to call the school's financial aid office to get more information. Also, complete the FAFSA 4CASTER online at www.fafsa.gov. It will give you an early estimate of your eligibility for aid. Then, meet with the college or career counselor at your high school—they can refer you to a college access expert or center in your area that offers free college planning assistance.

Consider wants vs. needs. I talk to students about how we always seem to find ways to buy the things we really want, such as smartphones, Apple watches, designer bags, or other expensive items. How did we find the money to buy it? We sacrificed smaller things for the bigger desire. Affording college is the same. If something is important to you, you will find a way to make it happen. Many students start out on the four-year plan, which stretches out to the five, six or even seven years of balancing life, work, and school. If you need help along the way, ask for it.

Scholarships! They are out there, but you really need to work at finding them. It's easy to do a cursory search on the web and believe you can't find anything, or if you do find something, only applying for one or two is a huge mistake. The more you apply for, the better your chances are at receiving one, and the more time you spend applying, the better your responses become. I tell students to keep a running document with all of their scholarship application responses. As they apply for more scholarships they will begin to see a common theme in the questions. Then, it's just a matter of personalizing the responses.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE ECMC TO PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THE COST OF COLLEGE?

There are many things to consider during the college planning process, from the financial commitment, to the academic offerings, to whether a particular school's environment and location is a good fit. I can't speak for other organizations, but at ECMC, we focus on student success in higher education and provide financial literacy training, support, and outreach to help students plan and pay for college, as well as manage debt. Our mission is to help students succeed.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU SEE THE HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT'S YOU WORK WITH ARE SUPPORTING STUDENTS APPLYING TO COLLEGE, SPECIFICALLY FINANCIAL AID?

I see them reaching out more and more to college access and student success partners like ECMC. High school counselors are pretty resourceful and very dedicated to their students. They contact us at ECMC for support when they need it. We partner with local community colleges to offer free college access centers (The College Place) in several states. Our ECMC Scholars Program pairs students with mentors beginning in their junior year in high school and continuing through college, providing scholarships to those participants as well. In the fall, schools often ask us to assist at FAFSA filing events.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THEM ADOPT?

I would love to see financial literacy incorporated into K-12 curriculum. At the very least, it should be a mandatory course to graduate from high school in every state, which it currently is not.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

Schools are responsible for their cohort default rate, which is the percentage of a school's borrowers who default on their student loans within a specific timeframe. Students may understand that student loans represent a lot of money, but many still don't quite grasp the impact that this debt will have on life after college.

Financial challenges and needing to work are two of the main reasons students dropout of school. Failing to graduate leaves the student with debt but no skill set to pay it off. Financial literacy programs easily align with the public service mission of state colleges and universities. Schools can mitigate the percentage of defaulting students by promoting financial literacy as a value add and weave programs into the campus culture. This in turn helps transition the next generation of taxpayers into the American economy. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for a successful financial literacy program. What is successful for one school may not work as well for another. The success of financial literacy programs is usually driven by the availability of funding, time, space, and staffing.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

There are many things to consider during the college planning process, from the financial commitment, to the academic offerings, to whether a particular school's environment and location is a good fit for the student. At a time when Americans collectively owe more than $1.3 trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, and with tuition rates vastly outpacing inflation, families shouldn't be left in the dark about what they'll be expected to pay for college. This is even more true for individuals who are the first in their family to attend college, which we focus on a great deal at ECMC. By bringing much-needed transparency to the college tuition market, we're empowering families with the tools and information they need to make fully-informed decisions about where to attend college before they've settled on a list of schools.

ANY FINAL THOUGHTS FOR US?

Our website, www.ECMC.org, is a great resource, and not just for high school students. ECMC also provides several resources that guide families through the process to ensure they make the best choice. Here is a sampling of our free tools and resources:

Opportunities Book is a step-by-step workbook that provides the tools families need to make smart decisions about one of the biggest decisions in their lives. The book features a variety of worksheets covering a myriad of topics including the application process, choosing the right school, and navigating the financial aid process. Also included are to-do checklists for high school juniors and seniors. We provide more than 350,000 copies annually to students across the country, free of charge, in English and Spanish. The books also are available for free download on ECMC's website.

ECMC Scholars program is a rigorous two-year mentoring program that allows select students to access up to $4,000 in scholarships their first year of college. Pending completion of all requirements, students qualify for an additional $2,000 for their second year. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, these students aren't selected solely for their academic merit or test scores,instead, they are chosen for their potential. Over the past 13 years, ECMC has provided more than $15 million in financial aid to 5,080 students in Virginia, Oregon, and Connecticut. ECMC committed to supporting an additional 470 students with nearly $3 million in scholarships through 2019.

The College Place (TCP) is a network of ECMC-supported college access centers operating across Minnesota, Virginia, Oregon, California, and Connecticut to provide free college preparation and financial counseling services to high school students. TCP Directors work with hundreds of students and their families to help them navigate the complex college admissions and financial aid processes. The centers provide free information and assistance through in-person, telephone, and online support. They also offer presentations, workshops, and individual assistance with college admissions, financial aid, and scholarship applications.

About Abril Hunt

Manager of Outreach and Financial Literacy for ECMC Abril Hunt is manager of Outreach and Financial Literacy for ECMC, a nonprofit that focuses on student success in higher education and provides financial literacy training, support and outreach to better educate students on paying for college and managing their debt. In her position, Abril facilitates and manages ECMC's award-winning national educator trainings, which provide valuable, free-of-charge lessons in financial literacy and higher education planning to students in middle school, high school, and college. Abril also manages College Abacus, a free online tool that allows families to calculate and compare personalized financial aid estimates across thousands of U.S. colleges, and also serves as the writer and co-host of ECMC's weekly national webinar, Financial Awareness Basics.

7 Ngina Chege, Student at Holy Cross College

I would advise students and their parents to think outside of the box when it comes to financing their college education. I would encourage them not to limit themselves to the resources provided at their specific high schools, but to also seek resources in their communities. Academic programs such as Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound (TRiO) are great examples of programs that equip students with the knowledge and empowerment needed when navigating through the college application process.

By Ngina Chege Student at Holy Cross College
Learn more about Ngina Chege

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND YOUR PATH TO COLLEGE?

My name is Ngina Chege and I am currently pursuing a Liberal Studies degree at Holy Cross College. I am originally from Kiambu, Kenya, arrived in America at the age of eight, and have resided in South Bend, Indiana, for fourteen years now. My path to college was somewhat challenging, as there were many decisions I had to make on my own. I knew that my family expected me to attend college, but topics related to college were minimally discussed growing up. When my junior year of high school came around, I found myself overwhelmed trying to figure out exactly what steps were needed to attend college.

My family encouraged my desire to pursue higher education, but they were not able to guide me through the process due to their lack of experience. Growing up I frequently translated and explained documents for my family due to my proficiency in English. Similarly, I knew my family expected me to attend college, succeed, and assist my younger siblings in time. I figured that my journey into college was not exclusively for my sake, but for my family's sake as well.

After submitting applications, I was accepted into Holy Cross College and Indiana University of South Bend. Although I faced many challenges in the beginning, as a second semester junior in college now, I am glad I had resolve, never giving in on my dreams of attending college.

WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST DIFFICULTIES YOU FACED IN THE COLLEGE APPLICATION PROCESS?

Researching programs and majors that matched my interests was the most difficult part of the application process. I knew what I felt passionate about, but when it came time to match those aspirations to specific classes or certain program majors, it became frustrating.

I would advise students who are in the process of applying to college to take tours of the colleges they are interested in. This will give prospective students a chance to meet with advisers for the specific programs that interest them. The one-on-one conversations with advisers could significantly impact the evaluation of whether or not the classes and programs offered at specific colleges are in line with prospective students' career goals.

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT SCHOLARSHIPS OR RESOURCES TO HELP YOU PAY FOR COLLEGE?

I discovered scholarships and resources to help pay for college through the career center at my high school, where I attended workshops that provided information about how to apply for financial aid and scholarships. Often local college advisers would attend the sessions, and this allowed me to ask questions about scholarships specific to the institutions they represented.

I also sought job opportunities that advertised educational benefits like scholarships, tuition reimbursement, or tuition coverage for classes related to the business function of the employer. I knew that I would have to work and attend school simultaneously, and it was important for me to work for organizations that contributed to my educational goals.

In addition, I would advise students and their parents to think outside of the box when it comes to financing their college education. I would encourage them not to limit themselves to the resources provided at their specific high schools, but to also seek resources in their communities. Academic programs such as Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound are great examples of programs that equip students with the knowledge and empowerment needed when navigating through the college application process. There are many amazing counselors and advisers, but thinking outside of the box forces students to become their own advocates, and in my experience that is the most important skill needed upon entering college.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

The cost of college is a major factor in deciding which college to attend, often discouraging students, especially those already struggling financially, from applying. As tuition costs increase, student debt is also on the rise, which functions as a deterrent for many prospective and current college students.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

The cost of a college education can become a tremendous burden without proper planning. Parents should not wait until their children are in high school to begin thinking about what options are available to them. It is important to have conversations early, so that the students know what is expected of them, and the role they will play in financing and finding options for financing their education.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

Successfully pursuing and attaining higher education is one of the most effective ways to cross class barriers, but the financial aspects associated with the pursuit of higher education are often barriers. One main roles of a university should be to provide guidance to students who are struggling to pay for college. Providing students with information about resources available to them can make a big difference, because it may be their first time being financially responsible for themselves. Simply setting aside the time to inform students of the various options that are available can make all the difference to a student.

LAST THOUGHTS?

College is challenge to navigate alone, and I hope that students gain the confidence to become their own advocates by asking questions. This can be difficult, especially for first generation and low income students. I would inform struggling students to ask questions, and that neither feeling overwhelmed by the decisions that arise during the process before college, nor the hardships experienced in college, are a reflection of their abilities to succeed. Once students understand their motivations, they will learn that there is always a community of individuals willing to guide and support them in their journey.

About Ngina Chege

Student at Holy Cross College Ngina Chege is a junior at Holy Cross College majoring in liberal studies with a pre-law concentration. Born in Kiambu, Kenya, Ngina has called Indiana her home since the age of eight and is a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana. In addition to completing bachelor's coursework, Ngina is currently an intern with the University of Notre Dame's TRiO Programs department, where she works to assist first generation and/or low-income, high school students as they pursue their goal of college enrollment and graduation. Ngina is also employed part time at Wells Fargo, where she has served for more than two years. Her prior employment and volunteer experiences include working with the CASA Program, serving as a court appointed special advocate to represent abused and neglected children, and experiences with St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and Holy Cross College. In the summer of 2017 Ngina also participated in a Global Immersion Experience in Peru, where she taught English and learned and embraced Peruvian culture. Ngina hopes to attend graduate school after completing her bachelor's degree.

8 Justin G. Roy, Dean of Admissions at Georgian Court University

Many people assume that some schools are beyond their reach when they might not be. An admissions/financial aid counselor can properly advise the student on what the true cost will be for him/her based on numerous factors, such as their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), SAT or ACT scores, performance in high school, extracurricular and community service activities, work history, family income, etc.

By Justin G. Roy Dean of Admissions at Georgian Court University
Learn more about Justin G. Roy

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS MAKE THEIR WAY TO COLLEGE?

I was the college student that worked two jobs (one full time and the other part time) and relied on financial aid, scholarships, and loans to go to college. I completely understand what prospective and current students are going through.

I had to think outside of the box to afford college. This included visiting my local town hall to see if trade and civic organizations offered scholarships. I needed to fill the gap between what I could invest in my education and the financial aid package I was offered, and school tuition. This information was not as easy to access on the internet as it is today.

My goal was to attend a large university, but I ultimately decided to attend a small, private school - Assumption College in Worcester, MA. This decision was based on many factors with the largest one being financial. I would have never considered this school when I first started my college search. I wanted to go to a school that was far away from my hometown with all the benefits that a large school had to offer. Once I started my college search and realized that this goal might not be attainable for me, I decided to have an open mind and look at other options. This turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life. Assumption College was a perfect fit for me.

Prospective students need to be flexible and take a holistic approach to their college search. It is more than about the sticker price that the school publishes on its website. Students need to look at the true cost or net price for them as an individual. Therefore, I take a consultative approach and guide students to consider the complete picture. This includes everything from determining the actual price they would pay to attend Georgian Court University to finding the resources to pay the tuition (e.g., financial aid, grant, merit or athletic scholarships, endowment or foundation funds, student/parent loans). We also address the potential return on their investment (i.e., lifetime value and earning potential) they could realize as a GCU graduate. Many students find that GCU is more affordable than they original thought – even less expensive than a public university or college in New Jersey.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

Typically, prospective students, as well as their parents and other members of their support system, look at the advertised cost of attending a school and narrow down their options based on price instead of value. I encourage students to fully consider the 3 major A's: accessibility, affordability and accountability when deciding which school to attend.

Accessibility is based on factors such as meeting the acceptance criteria, the school offering what the student wants to study, and being accepted into the program.

Affordability is the net price of attending the school to the student or what he/she will actually have to pay, as well as how the tuition will be funded over four years. Are the funds available from the student's support system, a 529 plan or other college savings plan, or contributions from the student? Many students and their families think in terms of taking out a $20,000 loan for one year instead of $80,000 to cover all four years, which could become an issue. Students and their support system must consider how to fund the entire cost or take a chance that the funds might not be available to graduate after they get started. Students must realize that they or their support system are still required to pay back student/parent loans even if they do not graduate.

Accountability takes into consideration whether or not the student will be able to graduate from the institution. All three of these dynamics must be considered – not just the price. The impact of attending college on a person's life is also an important consideration.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

The most common misconception is that the student and his/her support system will have to pay the advertised price to attend the university or college. I highly recommend that prospective students meet with an admissions/financial aid counselor when they first visit a school or are thinking about the institution. Many people assume that some schools are beyond their reach when they might not be. An admissions/financial aid counselor can properly advise the student on what the true cost will be for him/her based on numerous factors, such as their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), SAT or ACT scores, performance in high school, extracurricular and community service activities, work history, family income, etc. Each of these factors are unique to the student. For example, a student working in retail may be eligible for a scholarship through the National Retail Association or his/her parents could work for a company associated with trade or civic organizations that offer scholarships. Federal or state grants might be available. There are a lot of resources available to fund the cost of higher education that the prospective student may not be aware of, or even know where to start looking. An admissions/financial aid counselor can provide a lot of guidance on the available resources.

Another misconception is that there is only one path to attaining a college degree. There are many options to consider making the school of choice more affordable for a student such as commuting instead of living on campus.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION?

There are many choices student and their families must make to afford a college degree. The most obvious ones are attending a community college and then transferring to a four-year institution, commuting to school from home instead of living on campus, serving as a resident assistant (RA) to defer the cost of housing, working full or part-time, taking evening or online course while working, participating in work/study programs, taking College-Level Examination Project (CLEP) exams or Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school to earn transferable credits, as well as exploring financial aid and student loans.

I encourage students and their support systems to be transparent and have a conversation with the institution's admissions/financial aid counselors before assuming that they cannot afford to attend a school. Make a list of questions before your meeting with the counselor and be honest about your financial position. This is not the time to hold back information on your finances. Counselors are there to help you make the right decision for your situation.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT LOW-INCOME FAMILIES? MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES?

All students and their families should carefully consider the above factors when making the decision on which school to attend. Higher education is an investment in the student's future and quality of his/her life. There are stepping stones that a student can take, and adjustments can be made to an original plan – including attending a more affordable school instead of the school of their dreams.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

The top piece of advice I would give all students and their parents/guardians is not to base your decision on a school, or attending college at all, on assumptions. Each situation and student are unique. Just because a friend or family member could not afford to attend a school doesn't mean that you can't, even if your income level is the same. Take the time to learn the facts and then make the decision that is best for you.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

I advise students to talk to their high school guidance counselor, if applicable, and the admissions/financial aid counselors of the school(s) they are interested in attending. I also recommend that students be diligent about identifying all financial resources that they may be eligible for by checking online resources such as www.FastWeb.com for scholarships.

Every college-bound student should take the SAT at least twice. Thousands of dollars in funds could be made available to the student by scoring 100 or more points higher on the SAT. Students that don't do well on the SAT should consider taking the ACT. The SAT is heavily based on science and math. Students with more creative minds may score better on the ACT.

Finally, I suggest that students have an open mind and find an institution that meets their goals by looking at the qualitative and quantitative attributes of schools on their list and those that are not. Students may find that a college or university they are not currently considering is a better fit, or that another path to earning a degree maybe be a more sensible choice for them.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU SEE HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT'S SUPPORTING STUDENTS APPLYING TO COLLEGE, SPECIFICALLY FINANCIAL AID?

High school guidance departments and school districts play a critical role in the college decision making process. They have resources about colleges and universities, financial aid, federal and private student loans, federal and state grants, and other valuable information that can make a degree attainable.

Most high schools and/or school districts offer college recruitment fairs and programs on topics such as the college search process, how to write a college resume or essay, what to look for in a school, and financial aid and preparing for the SAT. Outside experts and subject matter authorities are often invited to speak at these events. Some of these speakers offer special programs. Students and their families should take advantage of all the resources available to them at the high school level.

High school coaches, teachers, and counselors frequently recommend exceptional athletes and students talk to their college counterparts to find out about scholarships. Students should discuss their goals and aspirations with coaches, teachers, and counselors so they are aware of what the student is looking to achieve.

High schools also publish guides, fact sheets, and tips on various subjects related to going to college. Students and their families should ensure that they receive and read this literature.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THEM ADOPT?

Many of the programs offered by high schools and school districts are for seniors. I would like to see the process to start in a student's junior year and cover more information about how to finance an education. As indicated above there are many other alternatives to consider.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

Universities should adopt a consultative approach to help students afford college. There are so many options to consider and alternatives to the traditional path of earning a degree. At GCU, we discovered that by taking a consultative approach, prospective students were better informed, had a clearer understanding of their financial obligation to the school, and knew what financial resources they may be eligible for and how the investment in their education would impact their lives and livelihood.

This information is vital for all prospective students to have no matter where they are in life: high school, already in a career, transitioning to a new field, or a senior citizen wanting to enrich their minds. It is the only way to analyze the cost vs. the benefit of attending a college or university and actually earning a degree.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

There are so many wonderful online resources. Some of ones I recommend are:

CollegeBoard – provides information on admission requirements, the SAT, ACT and AP tests, as well as college planning, financing, and other valuable content.

College Navigator – hosted by the National Center on Education Statistics, provides a snapshot on the true cost of attending a school.

Fast Web – provides information on $3 billion worth of scholarships and can match students with scholarships which they may be eligible for based on certain criteria.

College Scorecard – hosted by the U.S. Department of Education Scorecard, has qualitative and quantitative data on schools.

The Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) – hosted by the New Jersey Department of Education. HESAA has many valuable resources on planning for college, tuition aid grants, and various types of family loans.

ANY FINAL THOUGHTS FOR US?

Think out of the box. Anything is possible if you put your heart and mind into it. No one should be limited by their lack of financial resources. There are ways to attend college if you are willing to do the work and make sacrifices, if necessary, and truly want to earn a college education. College-bound students should start the investigative process early (junior year of high school) to ensure there is enough time to gather the appropriate materials, meet with college admissions/financial aid counselors, research and apply for funding, and analyze the qualitative and quantitative benefits of each school before making a decision.

About Justin G. Roy

Dean of Admissions at Georgian Court University Justin G. Roy is the Dean of Admissions at Georgian Court University (Lakewood, NJ) where he oversees enrollment management, one of the most critical areas of the university's operations. Roy, formerly vice president of enrollment and marketing at William Peace University in Raleigh, North Carolina, has extensive experience in recruitment, marketing, brand development, operations planning, and business development. At William Peace, Roy expanded student recruitment territories among his staff and rebranded the university following its 2011–2012 transition from a historic women's institution to a co-ed university. There he also led and integrated marketing and communications efforts, implemented a new customer relationship management system, and designed strategic reorganizations, all of which contributed to increased student enrollments. Previously, he worked at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts, as director of social and digital media. At Nichols, he also increased brand visibility, led a website redesign, and implemented a range of digital strategies to support enrollment and the college's online marketing. Roy, who joined GCU in 2015, is an expert in long-term growth strategies for colleges and universities. His portfolio also reflects his ongoing work in areas like financial aid modeling, higher education partnerships and collaborations with industry, and student retention. In addition, he is a fierce advocate for increasing campus diversity, including the recruitment of more first-generation students. In all of his work, Roy focuses on the student experience. He bonds with GCU's market-savvy millennials on a regular basis – knowing them by name, knowing their history, and helping them realize their goals. Under his leadership, GCU's admissions office recently adopted a new CRM that substantially expanded the university's recruitment efforts and extended the hours of GCU's financial aid and registrar offices, making them more accessible to students and their families. He also launched admissions partnerships between GCU and more than 15 high schools and community colleges. Such programs expand the ways GCU helps students afford, and access, college. Roy and his staff also implemented a new program, Degree Up!, to help adult students complete their degree. Before working in higher education, Roy held leadership positions in sales, marketing consulting, and development. He also co-founded Give Back Chicago, an organization that matched individuals' professional skills with the needs of nonprofit organizations and gave young professionals—employed, unemployed, underemployed, or in transition—an opportunity to give back or keep their skills sharp.

9 Holly Morrow, Senior Vice President of Knowledge at uAspire

When financing an education, students and parents need to know that the costs for college are multiplied by however many years the student will attend. If they are stretching to make one year work, then they should think about how they will meet the costs of the following years.

By Holly Morrow Senior Vice President of Knowledge at uAspire
Learn more about Holly Morrow

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE HELPING STUDENTS PLAN THEIR FINANCIAL PATH TOWARDS COLLEGE?

At uAspire we work to ensure that all young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to, and through, a postsecondary education. Our nonprofit provides assistance to young people and families, offering direct services to thousands of students in school systems in Massachusetts and the San Francisco Bay Area. Through our training partnerships in more than 27 other states, we reach thousands more young people, partnering with local, regional, and national nonprofits; school districts; and charter management organizations.

Our experts have over 20 years of experience advising students and families one on one throughout the financial aid process, as well as supporting and coaching other front-line practitioners in their efforts to support students looking for an affordable path to and through college.

WHY DOES THE COST OF ATTENDING COLLEGE FUNCTION AS SUCH A DETERRENT FOR STUDENTS?

Over the past 40 years, the cost of college tuition has risen at nearly four times the rate of inflation. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of student borrowers in this country and the size of their loans grew over 70%. These increases are having a disproportionate effect on students from low to moderate income families as federal data shows income gaps have been widening at an accelerated rate since the Great Recession of 2008.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PAYING FOR COLLEGE?

Common misconceptions we encounter include understanding sticker price versus net costs (costs after aid is calculated); differences between need-based aid and merit-based aid, as well as other types of aid such as loans and work study; and whose information gets reported on the FAFSA, including topics such as dependency and who is considered a parent.

WHAT CHOICES ARE YOU SEEING STUDENTS AND FAMILIES HAVE TO MAKE BASED ON THE COSTS OF HIGHER EDUCATION?

We see choices related to attending public vs. private, living off campus when on campus was preferred, attending part time while working in order to pay for school, taking out additional loans on top of what was offered on their award letters, and not attending at all.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT LOW-INCOME FAMILIES? MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILIES?

Low-income families may be in less of a position to borrow additional loans or take out tuition payment plans in order to cover costs.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH ALL STUDENTS AND PARENTS/ GUARDIANS KNEW ABOUT FINANCING AN EDUCATION?

When financing an education, students and parents need to know that the costs for college are multiplied by however many years the student will attend. If they are stretching to make one year work, then they should think about how they will meet the costs of the following years. It is a serious commitment, and considering what is feasible for the family regarding long-term debt payback is the first step. Also, students and families should make sure to explore all borrowing options and determine whether federal or private options are better for their current financial circumstances.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS THINKING ABOUT APPLYING TO COLLEGE, BUT AREN'T SURE THEY CAN AFFORD TO ATTEND?

Take advantage of the ton of information available about college costs. Talk with your family to understand what resources exist to help pay for college, then check out the net price calculators provided by the colleges you are considering, along with College Scorecard data. Look for and apply for scholarships throughout your senior year in high school. Lastly, you won't know if you can't afford to attend until you receive and review an award letter.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE UASPIRE TO PROVIDE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THE COST OF COLLEGE?

College students face several difficult financial decisions over a short period of time that determine their ability to pay for college and how much debt they will have after they get their degree. Nationwide, up to 20% of high school graduates accepted into college simply “melt away” over the summer and fail to attend college in the fall, it's a phenomenon referred to as “summer melt,” and it disproportionately affects low-income and minority students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Their failure to show up when classes start is often linked to personal and financial issues that surface in the weeks before classes begin, and made worse by their families' lack of experience navigating college bureaucracy.

The percentage of college-intending students that do not make it to college after graduating high school was 21% in Boston; 33% in Providence, Rhode Island; 32% in Philadelphia; 29% in Albuquerque, New Mexico; 28% in Dallas; and 44% in Fort Worth, Texas. That's where uAspire comes in. Every summer our advisers work to support students in various ways, fine-tuning their efforts to meet their individual needs during this critical time.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU SEE THE HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT'S YOU WORK WITH ARE SUPPORTING STUDENTS APPLYING TO COLLEGE, SPECIFICALLY FINANCIAL AID?

Many high schools that we work with are scheduling time during the senior year to educate their students about the college process. Providing time for this during the school day allows students to plan for different steps and connects them to someone in the school who can check on their status and offer help when needed throughout the application process.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THEM ADOPT?

The financial aid process is much more than filling out and submitting the FAFSA. A key thing we would like to see high schools adopt is reviewing award letters with students. Reviewing award letters will ensure the student has the information to make a financially-informed college decision.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF A UNIVERSITY IS IN SUPPORTING STUDENTS STRUGGLING TO PAY FOR COLLEGE?

Universities have a responsibility to communicate their costs as clearly as possible to the student. It should never be a mystery or be at all confusing to calculate what the upcoming bill will be. Alternative payment options available through the college should be clearly explained to students and families. Also, throughout the application process and each student's education, the financial aid and bursar's offices should be available to answer questions and troubleshoot problems.

WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND STUDENTS, AND THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, TURN FOR RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE AS THEY BEGIN TO PLAN HOW TO FUND THEIR EDUCATION?

The first step is for students and their parents to talk to each other about college costs so that students understand if they can expect any help from their family. Once that conversation has taken place there are a vast number of resources available to plan for funding higher education. We've listed a few helpful websites below:

- https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/
- https://collegecost.ed.gov/netpricecenter.aspx
- https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/
- https://www.collegegreenlight.com/
- https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college

We also recommend they look for local scholarships, talk to friends and family who have gone through the process before, and discuss their options with the college they are planning to attend.

About Holly Morrow

Senior Vice President of Knowledge at uAspire Holly Morrow is the Senior Vice President of Knowledge. Over her more than 13 years at uAspire, Morrow has managed the quality and delivery of our direct service programming, first in Boston, then across Massachusetts, and most recently the delivery of training and technical assistance offerings to external partners. Throughout her time at uAspire, and in addition to her program leadership responsibilities, Morrow has served as a frontline adviser, navigating the financial aid process with students and families and using this experience to directly inform her broader work. In her current role, Morrow manages the creation of uAspire's broad suite of college affordability training content, tools, and expertise. She earned her MS in school counseling from Northeastern University and her BS in human development from Binghamton University.

Contact

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Data collected from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that tuition at public and private colleges is on the rise, and has been for decades. The average annual tuition at public schools rose from $2,196 in 1980 to almost $9,000 in 2015. According to The College Board, the average annual cost is now closer to $10,000, while private school rates increased from $9,882 to $34,740. Multiply these numbers by four years, or more, and it's not hard to understand why cost alone may be enough to deter students from even applying.

Cost is also a primary consideration for students who decide to submit college applications. As a general guideline, Experts recommend applying to 4 to 8 schools, although this is a general guideline and it may be appropriate for some students to apply to fewer or more schools. But how many are able to attend their first-choice school when accepted? A 2016 study from Royall & Company found that 40 percent of students “who declined their dream school cited price-related concerns as the reason.” This finding was the same across income levels, minority status, and SAT scores. Affordability is a concern for everyone.

"Apply! Never close the door on a potential opportunity due to the unknown."

- Ivette Chavez, Lead Financial Services Coordinator, CAP

Our panel has a central message for students who choose not to submit college applications for financial reasons: you are closing the door on opportunities you don't even know about. Their advice includes avoiding assumptions about the availability of financial assistance, getting an early start, keeping an open mind, and becoming your own advocate.

Avoid Assumptions

There are many potential roadblocks to making decisions about applying to and paying for college, from not understanding the process to assuming it's something it isn't. The answer may not be obvious. For example, living at home and attending a community college may not be less expensive than living on campus at a college in another state. Each student and situation is unique.

"Just because a friend or family member could not afford to attend a school doesn't mean that you can't, even if your income level is the same."

- Justin G. Roy, Dean of Admissions, Georgian Court University

An individual financial aid package can include a combination of funding sources, including federal grants, government and private loans, scholarships, and institutional aid (i.e., financial support from the school you are attending). Finding the true cost for each individual student is important; not everyone is paying for college in the same ways or amounts.

"You won't know if you can't afford to attend until you receive and review an award letter."

- Holly Morrow, Senior Vice President of Knowledge, uAspire

Start Early

Applying for financial assistance often begins with filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, the process should begin before the FAFSA with research of specific colleges. Get this started during the junior year and include a range of schools (e.g., two- and four-year, local and out-of-state, public and private). Find out more about each school's commitment to the financial support of students they accept, and gather the information needed to move forward. Identify what materials are needed for application materials and what scholarships are available, for example. There's a learning curve to conducting the needed research, so allowing time to complete this work is essential.

"Unfortunately, increases to financial aid and personal income have not kept pace with rising tuition costs. That leaves a gap for most families that is difficult to address if they wait until their senior year of high school to prepare."

- Abril Hunt, Outreach and Financial Literacy Manager, ECMC

Explore All Options and Resources

Panelist Justin Roy shared that his initial goal as a high school student was to attend a large college away from home. But after researching all of the costs associated with that path he decided to explore other options, ultimately finding the “perfect fit at a small, private school.” Be open-minded about what type of school you might attend and where it might be located.

"Today college pricing is confusing and abstract, making it extremely difficult for students to understand how much they are paying."

- Nick Ducoff, Co-Founder and CEO, Edmit

It is also important to find and work with experts who are experienced with college admissions and financial aid procedures. Unfortunately, these processes can be complex, but no one has to go through them alone, and shouldn't. Talk with teachers, high school counselors, college admissions advisors, financial aid officers, and local community and civic organizations for guidance, information, and referrals.

Ask Questions

Panelist and student Nigina Chege encourages students to become their own advocates. It is important to not only understand everything about the financial aid packages colleges offer you before signing to accept one, but also to know that you can continue to ask questions after you are enrolled.

Sit down with a financial aid advisor every year to review your funding support and make sure everything is in place. Students can also negotiate financial aid packages when they are offered, and then again each year. Ultimately, the cost of attending college falls on the student, whether or not he or she receives support from family, financial aid, or other sources. Don't hesitate to speak up.

Paying for college is a daunting endeavor for many students and their families. However, resources and professional assistance are available to navigate the process from start to finish. Regardless of income, families stand to benefit from moving forward with college applications for students who are interested in higher education. You don't know how much assistance a specific college will offer until you apply. College may or may not be the right path, but don't let cost be the sole factor in a decision to apply or not to apply.

Resources for Further Reading

Trends in College Pricing 2017: Research from The College Board provides details about how tuition rates have changed, as well as comparisons by state and type of institution (i.e., public and private, two-year and four-year).


Financing Public Higher Education: Variation Across States: This report from the Urban Institute examines a wide range of financing variables at state-funded institutions, including state income levels and enrollment patterns.


The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2013: Research from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at shows the impact of cost and financial aid on students' decisions about college. Additional topics include diversity, number of applications submitted, and online learning.

Resources for Parents and Students

College Affordability and Transparency Center: This collection of resources from the U.S. Department of Education includes a net price calculator, state spending charts, and the College Scorecard, an easy-to-search database of college profiles focused on affordability.


An Introduction to 529 Plans: This guide from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission outlines the two types of plans - prepaid tuition and college savings. Additional information about fees and taxes is also provided.


College Planning Tools: This collection of resources is provided by SallieMae and includes loan repayment, college cost, and savings calculators, as well as a scholarship search and downloadable budget worksheets.


Federal Student Aid: The U.S. Department of Education provides a collection of resources to help parents plan for college. The materials include checklists for long-term planning, understanding college costs, and resources for completing the FAFSA.

Scholarships

Scholarships for Hispanic and Latino Students: This resource includes guidance for DACA students, as well as general information about scholarship applications. A list of funding opportunities includes scholarships specifically designated for hispanic students.


Scholarships for Students with Disabilities: This database of awards includes opportunities for those with a range of disabilities. This funding is made available by organizations such as the Learning Disabilities Association of America and the National Alliance of Mental Illness.


Scholarships for Single Mothers and Fathers: These scholarship opportunities are offered by a variety of sources including specific universities, private foundations, and others. Amounts awarded vary, and many have minimum GPA requirements for eligibility.