Last Updated Sep 10, 2010 6:08 PM EDT
Avoid reach schools.I get so tired of hearing high school counselors telling kids to apply to reach schools. The danger of reach schools is that they often will award little if any grant money to students who barely get in. While there are exceptions, most schools reserve their best financial aid packages to the students they really covet. Teens who barely get into a school may end up with financial aid packages stuffed with loans. Consider yourself warned.
Check other time zones.Roughly one out of every three college students choose a school that's no more than 50 miles away from his or her home. Some of the best college deals you'll find, however, are going to be further away. If you think about it, this makes sense. If you're a admission officer for a college in Pennsylvania and you are looking at similarly talented students, who are you going to be most excited about? The kid from Philadelphia or the teenager from New Orleans or Kansas City? In the higher-ed world, interest = money.
Check graduation rates.About 57% of college freshmen graduate in six years or less. It's a shocking figure. Obviously, the most elite schools are going to have the best graduation rates, but there can be dramatic difference among similarly selective schools. For instance, Providence College in Rhode Island has a four-year grad rate of 83.7% versus 46.5% for Bennington College in Vermont.
Check College Results Online to find the four, five and six-year grad rates of any college. On the site you can also obtain the grad rates and other statistics of a college's peer institutions by clicking on the "Similar Colleges" link.
Obtain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)Don't wait until you're filing the FAFSA to get your EFC. This important number tells you what you will have to contribute, at a minimum, for college. If you're wealthy, your EFC will be high -- I've seen EFC's in excess of $100,000. If you're low income, your EFC can be as little as $0. Wealthy teens should look for schools that give merit money. Other students should look for schools that provide excellent need-based aid.
To obtain your preliminary EFC, use the College Board's EFC calculator or the calculator at FinAid.org.
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
College cost image by Pink Sherbet Photography. CC 2.0.