It’s no secret that college admissions can be a tough process.
Between choosing a school, figuring out financial aid, and trying to create a budget, you might feel like running for the hills!
Luckily, there are several resources and tips that can help with college money.
Today we’ve rounded up some surprising college admissions tips from parents in our Paying for College 101 Facebook group.
These are tips you might not expect to learn about college admissions — and they’re straight from parents who have been there themselves.
Read on for our top tips for college admissions to help you save money and plan for college more effectively.
College Money-Saving Tips
Research Tuition Increases
Research each school you’re looking at to find that school’s history of tuition increases. Many schools raise their prices by three percent each year. U.S. News published a roundup of tuition growth at 20 major universities.
The study showed that the average tuition and fees at private National Universities rose by 154%. That’s why you need to make sure you know what you’re getting into — if the school has a trend of tuition increases year over year, that’s something you’ll want to know about ahead of time.
Understand What Scholarship Money Can Be Used for
If your student is awarded a scholarship, that money can be very helpful — but make sure you understand what the money is meant for.
Scholarships don’t often cover room and board or other fees; often, scholarships come with hidden costs. And even if a scholarship is specifically for room and board, it still might not be as helpful as you think: Room and board scholarships are considered earned income and taxed accordingly.
If you use a scholarship for travel or books and supplies that aren’t mandatory, those payments are also taxable. Scholarships used for tuition or required textbooks, however, are not taxed.
Are Private Scholarships Stackable?
When you’re talking to potential schools about scholarships, make sure to ask whether scholarships can be stacked.
Scholarship stacking is the practice of combining multiple scholarships (using scholarships from either various outside organizations, or from the school itself).
Some colleges allow it, while others don’t. That’s what’s known as “scholarship displacement.”
Check with the university in question if anything is unclear. The financial aid office will be more than happy to answer all of your questions.
Always Read the Fine Print
Make sure to look at the fine print on financial aid. How many years is the school offering? What exactly does the financial aid cover?
The terminology used in financial aid offers can be confusing, so don’t be afraid to ask the school to spell out exactly what’s covered. Financial aid will likely cover some combination of tuition, room and board, textbooks, transportation, and other fees, but every school is different.
Needs-Based Financial Aid Can Change Year to Year
One type of financial aid is grants, or money that’s awarded if a family can prove their financial need.
Grants can be extremely helpful for low-income students. However, something many parents overlook is that grant money can be taken away if you start making more money.
It’s important to keep in mind that if your family’s income goes up, you may lose your eligibility for financial aid — so if you’re actively job searching, the future of your student’s grant might be in jeopardy.
Dual Enrollment Helps Students Get Ahead
Encourage your student to utilize dual enrollment (college classes taken in high school) to get ahead. Going through dual enrollment with a state college or community college and then using off-site housing can be a big financial win.
In some states, dual enrollment classes are free except for textbooks. By taking dual enrollment classes, students can obtain both high school and college credit for the classes. And if they start early and work hard, they might be able to enter college with all of their freshman credits under their belt, equaling less time until they earn their degree.
Commuting to School Can Be an Option
If you crunch the numbers for room and board and things just aren’t working out, commuting is another way to cut costs. Some students estimate saving $10,000 a year thanks to living off-campus and driving to school. Commuting can also eliminate the need for a meal plan, helping your student save even more.
College Search Tools
Online Search Websites
Online college search tools can be a hugely helpful resource as you search for accurate information on a certain school.
For example, use Common Data Sets to find up-to-date information on whatever school you’re looking into. The Common Data Set, or CDS, is a data collection process that provides timely information on hundreds of schools based on survey responses. Information about financial aid, student life, and more is included in the CDS.
Georgetown’s Common Data Set is a great example of how you can utilize this resource and what information is included for each school.
Net Price Calculators
Use the Net Price Calculator to help with your research, too. Every school that joins the federal financial aid system has a net price calculator.
The calculator shows how much money your student would probably receive from that school and then subtracts that number from the total tuition, helping you get an idea of how much you’d actually have to pay from school to school.
Tools like the Net Price Calculator can give you a helpful frame of reference for college fees as you figure out student loans, financial aid, and other information.
Use Google Search
A simple Google search can be one of your best resources as you try to find information about a given school.
Search for “what do you hate about [school name];” this will pull up Reddit threads and other online forums where you can read student opinions on the school. It’s also helpful to Google “[school name] + crime” or “[school name] + controversy” to find statistics about campus safety and important information about the school’s history.
Researching the area where the school is located can also be helpful. For instance, will you have to budget for potential disasters or emergencies?
Find out whether natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes are common in that area and then factor those potential events into your budget.
A basic Google search should pull up the information you need, but you can also talk to the college about how they’ve handled emergencies or natural disasters in the past.
Other College Tips
Dorm Deposit and Waitlists
Some schools have a waitlist for dorms. If freshman students don’t apply for a dorm room early enough, they may be out of luck. Don’t wait — apply for a dorm as soon as possible to ensure your student gets a spot.
If you have any questions about the process of getting a dorm, contact that school’s housing department and ask how long the waitlist is and whether waitlisted students typically get a room. Students who don’t get a dorm room may be able to live in a nearby apartment off-campus.
Use these tips for college admissions from parents, who have walked through the process, to make your own college search easier.
You can also read up on advice directly from college admissions officers to find more college admissions assistance as you navigate this process with your student.
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