Can We Afford College? How Much Does it Cost, Anyhow? — Meet Bertha, The Financial Elephant In the Room


College aid formulas expect parents to contribute up to 47% of their after-tax income to pay for college each year. —Troy Onink SOURCE: Forbes

Last week an email came across the IECA Talklist regarding a high-achieving student who was graduating from a private high school but who couldn’t afford to attend any of the schools to which he had been accepted. He had had a significant financial aid package at his secondary school.

While we talklist folks don't know the specifics of this case, we know Bertha, the financial elephant in the room. Sometimes Bertha comes along to a family's very first meeting in my office. She delicately squeezes through the front door, finds the sturdiest floorboard, and carefully discards her peanut shells into the trashcan. Other times, though, she barges through the mudroom wall, months late to the party, sending splinters flying and everyone inside left wishing they could turn back the clock 16 or so years.

Let’s state the obvious:

  • A traditional residential college experience is expensive.
  • Parents are afraid of the ROI on said experience.
  • Parents are even more afraid of the lack of ROI for their children’s future without said experience.

I had a student a few years ago who had his heart set on attending Lafayette College. Will had SATs in the high 700s, a GPA well over 4.0, and a long list of leadership roles at his public high school. As the youngest of four children, two of whom were still in college, Will was told he could not apply Early Decision. His family did not qualify for need-based financial aid, and the net price calculator indicated the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) exceeded the full net price.

Will was crushed, and his parents wrung their hands. The discussions went on for a couple of months. Mom would call, “Are we doing the right thing? He has worked so hard.” Dad would chime in, “We just want to be able to retire at a reasonable age.”

Will applied for Lafayett's revered Marquis Scholarship, but in the end was not selected. He went on to attend the Honors College at Pitt, and is thriving.

Every student and family need educational options. Berthas of all temperaments are welcome -- and since they moved into the spare bedroom years ago, we might as well invite them the join in on Taco Tuesday.

To learn more about how to calculate your family’s EFC, see this article by Troy Onink.

Published: June 8, 2016


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