Paying for College: The Expensive Elephant in the Room

Posted on September 22nd, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School


Take a guess. How much are families currently investing in a college education? 

Including tuition, room and board, and other expenses, families will spend an average of $92,304 for four years at a public in-state college; for private colleges, it jumps to an average of $169,732 for four years (NCES 2017-18). With the cost of higher education seemingly reaching no limit, families are feeling stuck.

Is it better to save for college as soon as a child is born, or will limiting assets benefit your student in the college financial aid process?

Where can you turn when you have questions about paying for college?

The cost of higher education is not a new topic. Even 15 years ago, families bristled at the high sticker prices of the most selective colleges in the country. But price tags have continued to rise. When I worked in college admissions at the University of Miami, Emory, and UNC Chapel Hill, families frequently asked me about the average financial aid package and the availability of merit aid. Now, colleges are required to post Net Price Calculators on their websites, making it easier for families to estimate their expected contributions. Some colleges even post formulas, based on grades and test scores, for calculating the amount of merit aid for which students may qualify.

I realize finances are a sensitive topic. Most times, students may not be aware of how much (if any) funds their parents have set aside for college. My childhood friend had her heart set on a highly-ranked private school only to find out, after she was admitted and proudly wore the college’s sweatshirt around town, her parents could not afford to send her there. Because of similar stories I have heard during my time in college admissions, I recommend all parents discuss finances with their college hopefuls early in the process. It is better to set expectations early, rather than dash dreams or, worse yet, take on overwhelming debt to pay for college.

Here are some helpful tips on how to best plan for the rising costs of college:

Start thinking about college finances early.

Meet with a financial advisor to discuss the best options for your family. Advisors can offer guidance on whether opening a 529 or similar college savings account is in your family’s best interests.



Check out Net Price Calculators.

Every college is required to have a Net Price Calculator, usually found on the financial aid website. You will enter basic tax information and receive an estimated family contribution. Hint: the more accurate the input, the more accurate the output.



Connect with the Office of Financial Aid.

As you begin to narrow down lists and visit college campuses, inquire if you can schedule a meeting with a financial aid officer. Sometimes, this option is only available to admitted students, but take advantage if you can meet with someone during an initial campus visit. Be sure to have your questions ready.



Look for scholarship opportunities.

Even small scholarships can add up. Beyond what is offered by colleges, many local organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis, support local students with scholarships. There are also national scholarships, like Coca-Cola Scholars and Questbridge, that are worth exploring. Your college counselor can be an excellent resource for these types of scholarships.

Learn more at Emily’s upcoming workshop 

“Planning Ahead: Standardized Testing, Financial Aid, and Scholarships”
Sunday, September 29th, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Allendale Columbia School

This interactive workshop ideal for all students and families nearing the college application process. During the workshop Emily will offer suggestions on testing strategies that work best for your student, the ideal time to take the SAT or ACT, and whether “test optional” schools should be on your radar. Additionally, Emily will provide tips for navigating the financial aid and scholarship processes, a topic all families should consider as they build their college lists.  Attendees will leave with an understanding of how to best position themselves for success based on their particular needs.


Emily Nevinger

Emily Nevinger

Emily is Associate Director of Admissions and College Advising Consultant at Allendale Columbia School. After serving as the Interim College Advisor in Fall 2018, Emily took on a role to offer students and families outside AC with guidance in the college admissions process. Her role has since expanded to the Admissions team, where she helps prospective families learn more about AC's innovative education. Emily joined AC from Emory University where she directed the selection process for more than 20,000 freshmen candidates each year. She started working at the university level in 2003 and was a senior member of the admission committees for University of Miami, Emory University, and UNC Chapel Hill. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from Duke University, a Master of Higher Education Administration and Enrollment Management from the University of Miami, and a Certificate in College Access Counseling from Rice University.




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