Along with melting snow and the promise of tulips sprouting from the ground - springtime marks an exciting time for students: Gearing up for college. Those acceptance letters are rolling in -- but that also means dissecting the financial side of college planning and understanding what it’s really going to cost students and their families.
“My dream job is making medicine to help people’’ is how Said Nejmi explains his motivation for enrolling at Quincy College outside Boston, where he plans to study biotechnology. With three kids at home and a wife also going to college, financial aid is key.
“I registered for college last year, but it is expensive for budgeting, frankly,’’ Nejmi said. “I decided last minute to change my college for another college that is cheaper.’’
Patrick Kandianis, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Valore, owner of the Simple Tuition service, which focused on helping people better understand the real cost of college, said a lot of people struggle with the issue Nejmi has. “It’s hard to get an accurate understanding of what financing costs really are,’’ Kandianis said. “It’s basically like buying a house.’’
When it comes to comparing the net cost of colleges you or your child has been accepted to, first, when you get that “award letter” projecting your costs and offering financial aid and loans, check the fine print.
“Some schools package loans into their award letters,’’ Kandianis said. “So they'll have the costs, tuition and fees and other items that make up the cos, estimates for books or travel, and then they'll have any of the scholarship aid given them … If you do get an award letter, make sure that all the data, that it seems right. If it seems way out of whack, do a gut check and say, yes, this seems fair or unfair.’’
Jodi Then of American Student Assistance in Boston cautions that “there's no mandate that college financial aid award letters need to be similar or communicate information in the same way.’’ Besides making sure you've really got an apples-to-apples comparison on the cost of college A versus college B, Then stresses that you need to understand what the bill will be for several years, not just a one-semester or one-year total.
“To pay $10,000 for one year of college may not seem that bad,’’ Then said. “But when you look at it over four to six years, and you're now talking about $40,000 to $60,000 with interest, it paints a very different picture.’’