Rhode Island Monthly Higher Learning 2014 : Page 5

A ccording to the College Board, the class of 2017 will pay an average of $129,700 over four years to attend private colleges in the United States or $38,300 to attend public colleges as in-state residents. Rhode Islanders often see different figures. In-state students at URI will pay about $24,000 this year alone for tuition, fees, room, board and books. Students at Brown are paying about $58,000 per year, and Providence College students aren’t far behind at approxi-mately $56,000. Salve Regina and Roger Williams universities are slightly more affordable at roughly $48,000, and Bryant falls in the middle at $52,000. What families need to know is that despite these daunting price tags, just 12 percent of private college students and 48 percent of public university students nationally pay the full sticker price. The difference between sticker price and net price is the most important thing for families to understand as they consider the affordability of college. Sticker price is the total cost of tuition, room, board and fees posted on a college website. Net price is the final cost after scholarships, grants, work study, loans and other financial aid is applied. Understanding the five sources of aid is also critical. They are: colleges and universities, the federal government, state government, private scholarship funds and private loans. your final cost will not be locked in until you file your financial aid forms. Although most colleges use FAFSA or the CSS profile, the application process for college aid varies between schools, so check individual college websites for specifics. FAFSA forms are usually filed after January 1 of senior year in high school, but the CSS profile is usually required within a few weeks of submitting your application. Finally, many colleges offer payment plans that allow you to spread your college costs out over the year. Call the individual financial aid offices at the colleges where you plan to apply to find out more about their offerings. Many families incorrectly assume that their state universities are the only financially viable route for higher education, but students with reasonably good grades can receive generous financial aid at private colleges. For many students, this aid can reduce the cost of a private college to below what they would pay as in-state students at their university. There are two basic types of aid to be cognizant of as you plan for college: need-based aid and merit aid. Need-based aid is calculated according to your household income and assets, and there are two different formulas used by colleges to determine eligibility: the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form and the CSS (College Scholarship Service) profile. Merit aid is based on grades, SAT/ACT scores, leadership or special talents like sports or music. Income and assets are irrelevant. However, not all colleges offer merit aid. The Ivy League does not have merit aid, and many highly competitive colleges — like George-town, Duke, Bowdoin and Williams — offer little or no merit aid. Students will usually receive more merit aid from their reason-able and backup colleges than their stretch schools because colleges often seek higher GPAs and SATs to raise their average entering freshmen stats. While merit aid can be difficult to estimate, some schools publish their average merit award. Several publications, like U.S. News and World Report , have lists of the top schools for merit aid. If your family earnings or assets make you ineligible for need-based aid but you can’t afford to pay full fare, choosing colleges where you are likely to qualify for merit aid is critical. Federal law requires every college in the country to post a net price calculator on its website. By entering data from the previous year’s tax return, the calculator estimates a student’s annual net cost to attend a school after scholarships, loans and other sources of aid. Keep in mind that while some calculators estimate merit aid, not all do. You should be careful to note how much of your aid comes in the form of money that does not have to be paid back versus loans. This is an estimate, and College and University aid Uncle Sam offers loans and grants, many of which are based on demonstrated financial need. To apply for a Stafford Loan, Pell Grant or other federal money, you must fill out and submit a FAFSA form, and it’s best to file by February of senior year in high school. (Parents: This means that you may need to do your taxes early if you have a senior.) Stafford Loans are the most common form of federal aid. As the name denotes, the money does have to be paid back, but it is at a favorable interest rate with liberal terms. Dependent students may borrow up to $31,000 over four years. These loans are available to all college students, but whether the loans are subsidized or unsubsidized depends on individual need. Pell Grants, which can total up to $5,645 per year, do not have to be repaid and are targeted for students with financial need. Perkins Loans are federally funded but dispersed at the college level and can provide another $5,500 per year based on family income and assets. Recipients of Perkins Loans demonstrating the most need may also get a Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) of up to $4,000 per year. For students who intend to teach after college, Teach Grants can provide $4,000 per year if you agree to teach in an underserved school district for at least four years after college (you may opt to repay the grant as a loan if you cannot fulfill your commitment). The federal government also offers Direct PLUS programs, which allow parents to borrow the cost of attendance less any other aid received. You must have a good credit history to qualify, and the loans presently have an interest rate of 6.41 percent. Parents and students can also access a variety of college loans through Sallie Mae, local and national banks. Those considering military service will want to consider ROTC scholarships and stipends. Funding varies depending on the branch of service you select (Army, Marine, Navy or Air Force), and you need to ensure that your chosen college has an ROTC program or access to one. Scholarships can total up to $180,000 for four years, and stipends typically range from $250 to $500 per month. Keep in mind that there is a commitment to serve after graduation, and the minimum is two years full-time followed by four years in the Reserves. The deadline to apply for ROTC scholarships is January 10. Federal grants and loans One of the most underused programs to reduce college sticker price is the New England Board of Higher Education Regional Student Program. This program allows New England residents to attend a public university in another New England state at a significant discount if they are pursuing a major not offered in RHODE ISL AND MONTHLY I higher le ar ning I 2014 new england regional disCoUnts 5

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