How to Choose a Private College?

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Merit aid is one of the key necessities for students who are in need for financial aid, but getting the merit aid is not that easy, because not all colleges offer merit aid.

To make your college search more stipulated- Let us understand

Where can you get the Merit Aid?

We have already discussed about the need-blind and need-aware colleges. Your eligibility for the amount of merit aid depends largely on the type of college you are applying to.

The need-blind colleges do not allot any kind of merit-aid, because they don’t have to. The need-blind colleges promise to give all the money you need; if you get admission, and after the college has met all your needs, there is absolutely no point allotting the merit-aid.

Now, the need-blind colleges may seem to be a better option, since they promise to fulfil almost all your needs. But, if you think in terms of the EFC, which you will be liable to pay to these colleges, it may give you nightmares.

We don’t say that to demotivate you.

Just think- If you belong to a middle-class family, and you consider applying to the need-blind colleges, let’s say the Ivies, where the cost of attendance is too high, then the EFC that you will be liable to pay to the college will be very high. Your family may just be able to hardly afford that amount of EFC, or they might not afford it at all. So, even if you qualify for these colleges and they promise to meet your need, the EFC will still be a big hurdle.

Note: If you are a really good student, and can place yourself among the top students of the incoming class, and if your EFC is low, then without a doubt, you should apply to the need-blind colleges. The college will meet all your need, and you won’t have to pay much in the form of your EFC.

Your chances of receiving a really good amount of aid increases, if you can place yourself among the top 25 percent of the incoming class. Thus, we recommend you to consider applying for some less-selective need-aware colleges, that will allot you some amount of merit-aid, along with the need-based aid. By less-selective colleges, we mean a little bit less selective than the Ivies, and not the colleges with open admission.

There are about 4,400 colleges and universities in the U.S, and out of that only top 100 ranked colleges enjoy the limelight. If you look closely, and plan your research well, then you can come up with a list of some very good colleges that fit well in your budget.

A question should strike your mind:

How can you judge, if you come under the top 25 percent of the incoming class?

College Board has information regarding the academic credentials of the incoming class of almost all the colleges. All you have to do is, visit and type the college’s name for which you want the information.

After you are on the college’s profile, click on the option “How do I stack up?”. You will be redirected to the page containing a chart, that gives all the information you require.

You can find the SAT and ACT score ranges of the middle 50 percent (between the 25th and 75th percentile) of the incoming class.
You can also get an estimate of the GPA of the middle 50 percent of the class.

Using this chart, you can know if you fall in the top 25 percent of the class. If your scores are more than the range shown in the chart, then you surely belong to the top 25 percent of the incoming class.

How to choose a private college?

You should look into the following before selecting a private college for financial aid-

  • How many students have managed to get financial help from a particular college?
  • Do you satisfy the criteria required for the financial help?
  • Take references from the previous year and evaluate your chances of getting the financial aid.
  • Some colleges have a fixed parameter on which the financial aid is calculated.

Like- To be eligible for the financial aid, a student must have a GPA, or a Sat score in the higher range.

But before you choose the schools from the financial aid point of view, you should consider the following-

  • What is the financial condition of the particular school? A financially weak institution might not be able to provide you with a better deal.
  • What methodology is used by the school? (Federal Methodology or Institutional Methodology) In the case of institutional methodology, the financial aid is directly controlled by the school.

The Cost-Based College Search

If you inquire about the cheapest option available for college education, then we would suggest you to attend a community college for two years in your own locality, and then transfer to another school.

The College Board states that, the average cost for attending the community college is $2,713 annually, which is very optimum. If you decide from the cost point of view – The advantage of attending a community college is that, you can easily achieve good grades, that will make you eligible for admission, and receive the merit aid from your desired college.

But, this option has its own disadvantages-.

One of the major problem you might face is- transferring to some other college may not always be possible, and even if you successfully transfer, you may not be able to transfer all of your credits.

Also, when you transfer to a new school, you will lag behind other students in a lot of ways, as they would have already spent two years in that college. Hence, you may find some difficulty in coping up with the teachers, and their teaching style.

Now, let us look at some other better options by which you can find out the cost-effective colleges, without compromising with your educational goals.

The Search for the Cost-Effective Colleges

If the option of going to a community college does not appeal to you, then the next cost-effective option is to go to a school in your home state, or a neighbouring state. It will help you reduce some expense on transportation and travelling.

Let’s get real and begin our search for some good cost-effective colleges.

  • College Navigator is one important tool that can help you find about the colleges in any state. To use this tool, you need to log on to navigator. Using this tool, you can easily search the colleges that fall in a radius of approximately 250 miles from your home.

Here is how you can use the College Navigator tool:

  • On the left hand side of the page you can find a search box. You can use the search box to find about the colleges in any state of the U.S.
  • If you wish to choose more than one college at a time, then you should use the ‘MAP’ function, instead of the dropdown menu.
  • Click on ‘Show Results’.
  • After clicking on ‘Show Results’, you will be redirected to a page that will contain a list of colleges, along with the details such as their Cost of Attendance or sticker price, the average financial aid awarded, graduation rates, average amount of loan that the students have to bear, etc.

Though, this website is not the best tool available on the internet, but it is one of the most reliable sources, which provides up-to-date information.

  • College Board at is a similar tool as the College Navigator, but with some extra filters, which allow you to narrow your search to a great extent. Though, not all the filters are useful, but you can use them anyway, to get some more defined results. Further, this website provides you with the option of ‘Match maker’, which can help you shortlist the colleges, where you stand among the top 25 percent of the incoming class. The Match maker gives you a standard quality search by showing results of only those colleges that have optimum standards for admission (let’s say, the colleges, whose incoming class have a GPA of 2.0 and above). In short, unlike the College navigator, the College Board filters out the colleges that have open admission, along with the for-profit colleges.

NOTE: If you are wondering about why do we have such a negative perception regarding the for-profit colleges, then the answer is as follows.

  • The for-profit colleges receive an equal amount of federal funding as any other school, and this amount is roughly $26 billion.
  • he quality of education provided by the for-profit colleges does not even come close to the quality of education provided by other colleges.
  • The for-profit colleges have higher cost of attendance, and the value of their degree in the job market stands nowhere near the community and other state colleges.

So, providing the federal money to the for-profit colleges is similar to using the taxpayer’s money to buy the commodities, such as cars or clothing.

Now that you have the list of colleges from the College navigator, or the College Board, you should consider narrowing the list by excluding the unfamiliar colleges or the colleges that don’t interest you.

When you have the final list, then head towards the websites of the respective colleges for more information. The college websites are the best source to find out the information about the colleges.

For the students’ convenience, the colleges and the universities are bound to display a net price calculator on their websites. You can use the net price calculator to calculate the estimate of the federal loans and grants, that you are eligible for. It works very similar to that of the fafa4caster. The results may not be as accurate, but they are definitely useful.

Finally, you can go back to the College Navigator, and extract the admission stats for all the colleges shortlisted by you, and note it down. In each college’s profile, you will find a +Net Price tab, which will provide you the information regarding the average net price paid by the students of the incoming class. The average net price is the amount that you will have to pay to the college, if you fall in the middle 50 percent of the incoming class.

If you fall in a higher category, then you are likely to receive more aid, and a lower net price.

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