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Paying for College

Why the Cost of College Isn't as High as You Think

Learn how financial aid can significantly lower a college's price tag.
Why the Cost of College Isn't as High as You Think

With every new school year comes a new round of stories detailing just how high the high price of college has become. One story that caught my eye was from the Associated Press with the teasing headline "It'll cost more than $70,000 to attend this Connecticut college." The article refers to Trinity College in Hartford, and its purpose is to inform readers that Trinity College has become the first college in Connecticut to break the $70,000 barrier.

I'm not here to tell you that college can't carry a high price tag. Of course it can. But the good news for parents and prospective students is that there's another side of the story that isn't often told. And that's the story about the very large amount of financial aid available to students across the country. According to the College Board, in 2018-19, undergraduate and graduate students received a total of $246.0 billion in student aid. And the vast majority of families in the U.S. are eligible for at least some of this aid. This means that contrary to claims of the headline above, it will cost very few students over $70,000 to attend Trinity College next year. In fact, according to the College Scorecard, a federal tool designed to empower families to make informed decisions when choosing a college, the average family who receives federal financial aid pays about $32,000 for Trinity College.

I don't mean to single out this particular school. It's just a clear example of understanding the real cost of college. Part of MEFA's mission is to help families plan and save for higher education. One of the most daunting obstacles to overcome is the idea of saving such a large amount. When we only look at the sticker price of a college, we might believe the number is so large, even making a dent is impossible. But it's important to realize that, in most cases, the actual cost of a school will be much less than the sticker price, thanks to financial aid.

As you plan for college, there are free tools to help you determine the cost you may need to pay. As referenced above, the College Scorecard provides the average annual cost of every college and university in the country, based on the students at that school who receive federal financial aid. You can also use Net Price Calculators to find out an estimate of the net price that your family may pay for a college based on the financial aid you receive. You can find a Net Price Calculator on the website of every college and university. And remember, saving for college is so important, and it does make an impact, no matter how much you can save. To get started saving for college, visit our dedicated webpage here.

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