Biggest Financial Aid Myth: I Can't Afford This College

Last Updated May 25, 2010 4:30 PM EDT

Here's what I consider to be one of the nation's biggest financial aid myths:
I can't afford any college with a high sticker price.

For lots of families that's nonsense. Published college costs are meaningless. Most families face college expenses that are much lower than a school's sticker price.

A new study of recent college applicants illustrates just how widespread the sticker price myth is. Fifty nine percent of students said they only looked at college price tags when deciding which schools they should send applications.

According to the Student Poll, which was produced by the College Board and Art & Science Group, a higher-ed consulting firm, only 28% of applicants considered the net cost of college. That's the actual cost that families pay after they receive grants and other financial aid.

While tuition prices have indeed been rising faster than inflation for years, the real cost of college has been dropping because of college grants and to a much lesser extent federal tax benefits.

Here are 2009-2010 figures from the College Board that show the wide gap between published college tuition and actual costs:

Type of College Published Tuition Actual Price
Community colleges......... $2,544 $0

State universities...............$7,020 $1,600

Private colleges..................$26,273 $11,900

According to federal financial aid statistics, 64.4 percent of full-time college students receive college grants.

Here's the bottom line:

When you are shopping for colleges, don't initially rule out any college based on the sticker price. Ask a school about what your net cost would be.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog. Follow her on Twitter.

College cost image by Stu_Spivak. CC 2.0.