Death from College Cost Sticker Shock…
and How to Avoid It: Part 1

By: Jason Robinovitz | Last Updated: April 19, 2018

First, relax, because there’s very little chance that you’ll pay full sticker price for your child’s college education; and if the costs are still too high, there are actions you can take to reduce them.

We’re going to start with an extreme example, Harvard.

Let’s say that your family of four lives in Florida, and that your oldest child, Emily, was a strong candidate across the board — grades, SAT/ACT scores, an extracurricular portfolio, and essay — to gain admittance to Harvard. Let’s further say that your family’s annual income is $100,000 and that the value of its cash and other investment assets (excluding IRAs and the equity in your primary residence, neither of which Harvard takes into consideration) totals $150,000. And let’s say that Harvard costs about $72,250/year (which it does this year) for tuition and fees, room and board, and estimated costs for personal expenses (including books) and travel. Exactly what good did it do for Emily to get that admittance letter, since your family clearly can’t afford to send her there?

Well, it turns out that a family and student fitting the above profile would get a scholarship from Harvard in the area of $62,650, reducing the actual cost of attendance to $9,600/year, with the family expected to pay only $5,000 and the balance of $4,600 expected to come from the student’s summer and in-term work. (Honey, maybe we can actually afford to send Emily to Harvard after all.)

As we mentioned, Harvard‘s an extreme example: It’s a private college with a mammoth ($35 billion) endowment from which it draws to pay students’ expenses, and if your student’s good enough to get in — exceedingly few students are — he/she is among the top layer of the cream at the very top of the cup, so Harvard wants him/her as a student and future alumna, and they’ll do whatever’s needed to make that happen financially.

And just how do we know about the gigantic scholarship Emily’s going to get from Harvard because she’s good enough to gain admittance? Here’s how: we visited Harvard’s website and plugged fictitious Emily’s fictitious family’s demographics into Harvard’s Net Price Calculator.

That’s something that you can do, too, because almost every college has a net price/cost calculator (or a link to one) somewhere on its website. There’s also College Abacus, which advertises itself as “a one-stop, secure search site that helps students and families compare the net price estimates of 5,000+ colleges before students apply and before any financial aid determination is made.”

Even if we’re not talking Harvard, about 80 percent of students attending college receive some combination of federal, state and institutional (school) grants, along with private scholarships, federal student loans, and work-study aid via guaranteed student employment. And, according to, “The average undergraduate student had 58% of the cost of college covered by grants in 2017.”

We mentioned early on that there are actions that you can take to further reduce college costs if they’re still too high, and we’ll be covering one of the most important for them – improving scores on standardized tests – in Part 2 of this blog, up-coming very soon.

Topics: Ivy League ACT/SAT Test-Prep Educational Consulting Financial Aid


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