5 myths about getting in and paying for college

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(MoneyWatch) Tomorrow is national college decision day for high school seniors.

On May 1, students must put down a deposit to secure a spot at the college that they will be attending in the fall.

Some will be celebrating on Tuesday and others will be glum that their grand plans for college didn't pan out.

One way to make sure that this doesn't happen to your child when it's time to apply to colleges is to appreciate some of the myths surrounding the college courtship process. Here are five biggies:

1. You need to go to a name-brand school.

Not true. Most people in this country do not attend schools with any sort of cache. Only eight percent of college graduates, for instance, head off to state flagships, which are the premiere public universities in each state.

Where you go doesn't matter as much as what you do when you're there. Here is a post that I wrote about my daughter's experiences at a school that I suspect 99.9% of Americans have never heard of, much less know how to pronounce:

5 Secrets to Getting a Job After College

2. An Ivy League education is a must to have a great career.

A couple of famous studies suggest that this is nonsense. It's not the eight Ivy League institutions that make a difference, it's the intelligence and drive of the students who are attracted to them. Brilliant students can succeed wherever they end up attending college. In fact, students who share the same academic profile as the students who graduate from these eight schools are making the same salaries in their careers.

Here is a post that elaborates on this phenomenon:

Why Ivy League Rejects Earn More Money

3. You have to be a brainiac to get merit scholarships.

According to the latest figures from the National Association of College and University Business Officers, nearly 88% of freshman attending private institutions received grants/scholarships. The average award knocked about 49% off the tuition price tag.

4. If you're rich, you will have to pay full price.

College price tags are meaningless. Nearly everybody pays a lower price including wealthy families. Consequently when you are checking out schools, don't eliminate any at the outset because the price is high. The best way to get an estimate of what a school will cost your family is to use a net price calculator. I explain these calculators here:

College cost calculators: Getting Wildly Different Answers

5. Retirement savings will kill your chances for financial aid.

I got a note recently from a father who complained that he was considered affluent for financial aid purposes because of his retirement assets. It's extremely rare for a school to hold your retirement assets against you when determining financial aid. I elaborate with this post:

Will Saving for College Hurt Financial Aid Chances?

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