From Dreaming to Achieving: How One Student Found the Perfect College on a Budget

Young woman with long hair holding books in her arms standing on a college campus.

From Dreaming to Achieving: How One Student Found the Perfect College on a Budget

Published October 24, 2023

Young woman with long hair holding books in her arms standing on a college campus.

As college admissions become increasingly competitive, it’s crucial to share stories of students who have triumphed through hard work, perseverance, and a well-thought-out strategy. This is the inspiring tale of a Long Island, NY high school senior who, despite facing financial constraints, achieved her dream of attending a reputable university.

This story was first published, anonymously, in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow. 

Meet the Student

This determined young woman had an impressive high school resume: a weighted average of 106.133, unweighted average of 98.34, class rank of 7th out of 359, and an ACT score of 28. She took on the challenge of 10 AP courses and 6 dual-enrollment college courses while actively participating in various extracurricular activities, including serving as class president, varsity leaders club president, and student council treasurer. She was also a varsity softball and volleyball captain and actively involved in community service, volunteering over 200 hours for a local charity.

The College Budget

Her parents were supportive but realistic about their financial situation. They could contribute $20,000 per year in cash towards her education, but taking on excessive student loans was not an option. To make her college choices affordable, they encouraged her to focus on schools with a total cost of $30,000 or less, factoring in tuition, fees, room, and board. Financial aid was unlikely due to their middle-class status, so they reserved the option of stretching their budget only for Ivy League or super-selective schools that would significantly benefit her resume.

Softball Roster Offers

The student, a recruited athlete for softball, received roster spot offers from several schools. Unfortunately, the schools initially on her radar, such as Catholic University, Carnegie Mellon, and Brandeis University, came with substantial price tags after merit and financial aid considerations. Moreover, financial aid directors at some of these institutions warned that aid would decrease once her older sibling graduated.

The Application Journey – College Acceptances, Waitlists, and Declines

Undeterred, she cast a wide net when applying to colleges. She aimed to pursue a biology major with a pre-med track and hoped to secure a spot at a top-tier institution. Her application list included Boston University, Brown University, Colby College, Harvard University, Hofstra University, Miami University OH, Northeastern University, Ole Miss, Princeton University, Sacred Heart University, St. John’s University, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Stony Brook, UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, UNC – Chapel Hill, University of Alabama, and University of Rhode Island.

 Here’s the breakdown of her college results:

Accepted:

  • Fairfield University – Cost: $74,795, Merit: $28,000, Aid: $11,450, Net Price: $35,345
  • Hofstra University – Cost: $74,389, Merit: $33,000, Aid: $500, Net Price: $40,889 (Mom & Dad’s alma mater.)
  • Miami University OH – Cost: $55,558, Merit: $36,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: $20,558
  • Sacred Heart University – Cost: $64,892, Merit: $22,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: $42,892
  • St. John’s University – Cost: $65,230, Merit: $34,500, Aid: $0, Net Price: $30,730
  • SUNY Albany – Cost: $26,066, Merit: $7,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: $19,066
  • SUNY Buffalo – Cost: $25,528, Merit: $3,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: $22,528
  • SUNY Stony Brook – Cost $10,556 (Tuition/Fees Only), Merit: $1,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: $9,556 (She would commute here, so this is the most affordable option.)
  • UMass Amherst – Cost: $55,056, Merit: $16,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: $39,056
  • UMass Boston – Cost: $55,296, Merit: $18,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: $37,296
  • University of Alabama – Cost: $46,686, Merit: $15,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: $31,686
  • University of Rhode Island – Cost: $49,934, Merit: $12,000, Aid: $0, Net Price: 37,934

Waitlisted:

  • Boston University
  • Northeastern University

Rejected:

  • Brown University
  • Colby College
  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • UNC – Chapel Hill

The College Decision

Ultimately, she chose Miami University in Ohio. Although she didn’t secure a full-tuition scholarship, she was awarded substantial merit aid and additional funds through interviews. Miami University’s commitment to honors students and a favorable campus environment won her over. She also explored the possibility of playing softball there, either as a walk-on or through the club softball team. Importantly, her parents were thrilled with the locked tuition, room, and board costs that fell within their budget.

Lessons Learned

  • Cast a wide net: Applying to a range of colleges increases your chances of finding an affordable option that aligns with your academic and extracurricular interests.
  • Explore merit aid opportunities: Merit scholarships can significantly reduce the cost of attendance, so seek out institutions that value your accomplishments.
  • Communicate with coaches: If you’re a recruited athlete, don’t hesitate to reach out to coaches to discuss options, even if their initial offers aren’t within your budget.
  • Be open to new possibilities: The student’s journey led her to a school she hadn’t initially considered, showcasing the importance of flexibility and open-mindedness during the college search.

Join the Supportive Community

This remarkable story was shared anonymously by the student’s parent in the our Paying for College 101 Facebook group. Families should consider joining such online communities to educate themselves on the admissions and paying for college process. These groups provide valuable insights, support, and a sense of camaraderie among parents who are navigating the same journey. Your family’s college dreams can become a reality with the help of a supportive community and a well-informed approach.

In conclusion, this student’s story is a testament to the power of determination, strategic planning, and resourcefulness in navigating the complex world of college admissions. Her journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring college-bound students and their families, showing that with the right approach, finding the right college at the right price can be realized.

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Use our R2C Insights Tool to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

10 Reasons to Consider Smaller Colleges with High Acceptance Rates

Our Full Tuition Scholarship Journey

A Family’s Journey to Find an Affordable College

JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS & CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS: 

PAYING FOR COLLEGE 101

HOW TO FIND MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS

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