According to our annual College Hopes & Worries survey, 83 percent of parents and students expect their college costs to total more than $50,000 (and 37 percent estimated more than $100,000!). Almost every applicant, in other words, is thinking about how to actually pay for their tuition. While some of the horror stories you may have heard from such constant conversations about money may be true, there are certain “facts" that are actually closer to fiction. Here are a few myths that might be keeping you from reaching for your full financial aid potential.
Myth 1: A School with a Lower Sticker Price Is Always the Better Deal
My advice in this regard is simple: Don't judge a school by its sticker price. While it is true that on average the cost of attending a state school is less than attending a private school, the final cost truly depends on a family's income and the school's available aid funds. Since there are so many factors that go into determining a student's aid package, even the most expensive Ivy League could end up costing the same as (or even less than!) an in-state public university. So don't give too much weight to a sticker price — while one school's gross cost might be higher than another's, the net cost might be lower.
Myth 2: A Given College Costs the Same for Every Student
Think of your college tuition as you might think about airfare: It's a price that fluctuates based on a lot of factors. You might qualify for a discount or you might pay less depending on whether you're in-state or not. At the end of the day, just as you might pay a different fare from your seatmate on a flight, so too might you be paying a different tuition from your college roommate. This doesn't have to be discouraging, though, because as long as you plan ahead in calculating costs, you could be in the lower-paying crowd.
Myth 3: College Applications First, Financial Aid Second
One of the biggest myths about financial aid deals with the order in which you apply for it. Many think you wait to apply for financial aid until after you're admitted to a college. This is definitely a myth. Many financial aid deadlines precede the deadlines for actual admission applications, and as with any deadline during this process, it is crucial that you meet it.
For example, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opens every year on October 1, which is well before the regular admission deadline for most schools. So, don't wait — you might just be risking being left out in the cold for receiving any financial help.
Myth 4: Only the Rich Benefit from Financial Strategies
Whether you're just getting by financially or you are reasonably well off, you still want to maximize your aid eligibility. Don't assume that tax loopholes and financial strategies are only for millionaires. Just because the richest tend to reap the greatest benefits, that doesn't mean that there aren't also ways for everyone else to save.
The key to overcoming this myth, as with much of the college application process, is to do your research beforehand so you don't go in blind. By having your questions answered as they arise, you'll be well-suited to come out on top with the financial aid you need. For more information on how to pay for college, check out our books 8 Steps to Paying Less for College and Paying for College, which includes a line-by-line breakdown of completing the FAFSA form to maximize your aid package.