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Financial Aid at Top Colleges



Top Colleges Can be More Affordable for Low-Income
Students than Public or Community Colleges

While leading colleges have a very high, intimidating price tag, they are often much cheaper for low-income students to attend than public universities and community colleges. Selective colleges such as Stanford, Amherst, and Williams have large endowments and can commit to meeting all demonstrated financial need. Public and community colleges, and many lower-endowment private colleges, generally do not have the resources to cover all demonstrated need.

Below are the sample costs of a private college, a public university, and a community college:

Add together the following to determine the total Cost of Attendance:

Approximate Annual Tuition Rates
Private University $43,000
Public University $13,000
Community College $1,000


Additional Annual Expenses
These costs will be essentially the same regardless of what school you attend unless you decide to live at home and eliminate the cost of room and board.

Additional Annual Expenses
Total $18,000
Room & Board $11,000
Books & Supplies $1,000
Personal Expenses $1,800
Transportation up to $2,500
Health Insurance $1,700


Thus the total cost of attending a Private University would be $61,000, the cost of attending a Public University would be $31,000, and the cost of attending a Community College would be $19,000.

At every kind of school you would get the same federal aid. However, only the selective college would be able to provide enough additional aid to meet the remaining need. When you have unmet need, the total cost you have to pay is the EFC plus the unmet need. See below for an example:

Private University
Total Cost For You $1,500
Total Cost $61,000
Federal Grants – $4,000
Federal Work Study – $2,000
EFC – $1,500
University Aid – $53,500
Unmet Need $0

Public University
Total Cost To You $11,500
Total Cost $31,000
Federal Grants – $4,000
Federal Work Study – $2,000
EFC – $1,500
University Aid – $13,500
Unmet Need $10,000

As you can see, despite the overall price tag of a school, the private university for which you only have to pay the EFC will always be the cheaper option.

There are a number of top schools with financial aid policies that require no parental contribution under a set income level. It is important for low-income students to know that this doesn’t mean that attending one of these schools is free.

The EFC is a combination of how much your parents are expected to pay and how much you are expected to pay. So eliminating the parent contribution does not eliminate the EFC; the student contribution remains. Generally all schools require students themselves to make a contribution from their summer earnings, usually ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. Outside of the EFC, students usually also have a small annual loan, ranging from $1,500 to $3,000. So, even if your family falls below the $45,000 mark, you the student will still be expected to contribute to your education.

Paying the summer contribution and loan isn’t hard for students. Low-income students can often earn work-study doing research and other great summer jobs to cover their contribution. In addition, you don’t need to start paying off the loans until you graduate, and taking out a few loans is worth the great education you will get at one of these excellent schools.


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