How I Made College Affordable

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Our summer intern Blake C. Edwards, a finance major at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Here’s a first-hand view of how to make college affordable, written by our summer intern Blake C. Edwards.  Blake lives in Boca Raton, Florida and is a rising sophomore at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he’s majoring in finance in the Honor’s Program of the Fox School of Business.

As a rising sophomore attending an out-of-state university on a large merit scholarship, I am proof that sending your child to an outstanding college is well within your reach, as long as you pick the right schools to apply to.

Here’s how I managed to do it.

Three kids in college

I attended a large public high school in Boca Raton, Florida, where my family lives. Like many other families, we had discussions around the kitchen table to decide what schools I should apply to for college.

In our family, as with most other families we know, cost was an important factor. I have an older sister who will soon graduate from Florida State University with a degree in music therapy, and a younger brother who will be starting college in another year, so my family has had to budget for three college educations one right after another.

In-state or out?

We discussed how going to a state college would be a smart financial decision. State schools are convenient and more affordable than out-of-state or private universities, which can be financially out of reach for even top-ranked high school students.  It would take a very large merit scholarship to make a dent in a $40,000 or $50,000 yearly tuition bill.

My parents and I agreed that attending a school you can afford is better than taking out large student loans or stretching the family’s budget too thin in an attempt to send kids to their “dream school.” And, of course, many in-state universities – like those in Florida – offer an outstanding education and compare very favorably to their more expensive private and out-of-state counterparts.

I was lucky that my family could afford to send me to an in-state university. However, like many other young adults, I was not totally satisfied with that option and wanted to explore out-of-state schools as well. My family is originally from the Northeast and we still have lots of relatives living there. We moved to Florida when I was in 5th grade, but I’ve always dreamed of returning to that part of the country  for college. I wanted the opportunity to live and go to school in a big urban area, and meet kids from different geographical areas and backgrounds.  But to make this dream a reality, I would have to find a way to get into an out-of-state college and then make it affordable.

Don’t be in the “middle of the pack”

Here’s the strategy that worked for me.

You’re probably all familiar with the concept of applying to “reach” schools and “safety” schools, but it’s important to do that with regard to financial aid, as well.

I applied to several private and out-of-state schools to give myself more options, and was very fortunate to get into most of the schools that I applied to. Unfortunately, not all of the schools that accepted me offered me enough merit aid to attend. So, for example, while my grades and test scores were strong enough to get me into “reach” schools like Syracuse University, I wasn’t offered enough aid to put the tuition within my grasp.

While that was of course disappointing, my family and I agreed that whatever school I attended had to be affordable, so schools like Syracuse had to be crossed out.

What I learned is that while you may have the grades and other credentials to get accepted into some schools, you might not get offered enough aid to attend if you are in the “middle of the pack” in terms of meeting the school’s requirements. For me, I had just the right grades and scores to be accepted at Syracuse and other schools, but since the majority of other applicants were just as qualified as I was, my application didn’t stand out enough to earn the financial aid I needed.

Stand out by being “overqualified”

My experience showed you are more likely to get offered a better financial package if you apply to a school where you’re considered somewhat “overqualified,” meaning your grades, test scores and other credentials exceed the school’s requirements and place you at the top of the heap, rather than in the “middle of the pack.”

This is exactly what happened to me at Temple University. By placing in the top percentage of applicants, I gained a huge advantage. Top students get considered first for the honors program and more generous merit scholarships. The honors program is a big perk, giving you first priority when choosing classes, plus access to smaller classes and one-on-one counseling.

Through this strategy, I was able to land a large merit scholarship and get into the coveted honor’s program at the business school; proof that you can attend an out-of-state school for no more than you might pay at an in-state university.

Making the right choice

I’ve just finished my freshman year at Temple and couldn’t be happier with my choice to attend. Being in an honor’s program is a huge advantage, since we have great access to the undergrad advisors and avoid those huge lecture classes prevalent at many larger universities. This past year, very few of my classes were in a traditional lecture hall setting. Thanks to the honor’s program, the majority of my courses ranged from 14 to 40 students even though Temple has over 20,000 students. The university also gives students in the honor’s program a stipend to study abroad for one summer semester, which I plan on using to attend Temple’s campus in Rome.

There’s a great mix of students at Temple, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet so many new people from different areas of the country. I really love being in an urban area, and can take the subway into Center City, visit friends at other colleges like U Penn and Drexel, and grab a Philly cheese steak while exploring all the city’s museums and cultural resources.  At holidays, it’s easy to travel to visit family in New Jersey and Massachusetts.  And since Philly is such a business hub, it will be a great place to look for internships and interview for jobs once I graduate with my finance degree.

The Takeaway: There’s no reason to graduate from college with lots of debt. Pick a college that fits both your wish list and budget. Keep in mind that placing at the top of the applicant pool will likely pay off with the most generous merit aid package.


About Mari Adam

Mari Adam, Certified Financial Planner™ has been helping individuals and families chart their financial futures for over twenty-five years. Have a question about your financial situation? Ask Mari!

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