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The money factor in your college choice

How everything from award package to how rich the other students are will affect your college choice

The money factor in your college choice

Are you sitting at your dining room table surrounded by a stack of big, fat envelopes from several colleges? Congratulations!

Take a minute to consider how a school’s financial aspects will affect your decision.

Consider: The school’s location

Location may play a role when deciding if you can afford to attend a college.

Big city spending
Living in a big city means even simple expenses like shampoo, soap and going out for dinner can eat your budget quickly. Students on more residential campuses might find a more affordable standard of living, more student discounts or fewer off-campus money-draining opportunities.  You may want to receive college admissions counseling to discuss these concerns.

Brian Bonci, who took classes at Corning Community College in western New York before moving to New York City’s Pace University, says that his spending shot up when he made the move to the Big Apple.

“There is so much you can buy, and people are willing to pay more for them, so things cost more,” Bonci says of New York City. “It helps if you set a budget week by week. You can even be a nerd and make an Excel spreadsheet to calculate and track your spending. It’s all about budgeting.”

Kate Morris, a sophomore at Pace University, says she feels the tug of being a college student in a big city when it comes to paying for food and entertainment.  College admissions counseling may shed light on these issues.

“In the city, there is more to do, so you spend more,” Morris says. “The cost of living is higher; dorming is more expensive. I also spend a lot on the subway—$20 every week or so. Not to mention, there is Starbucks on every corner that begs you to come in and buy a $5 cup of coffee.”

Consider: The other students’ wealth

“There are people who are really affluent, and they set the trends on spending,” Bonci says. “Students either try to keep up with them or feel somewhat uncomfortable if they can’t.”

By no means should you feel like you shouldn’t attend a college that attracts people wealthier than yourself. But if that is the case, decide before you go how you’ll react to the peer pressure of spending. 

Consider: Public and private schools

You can’t judge the quality of a school’s education based on whether it’s private or public. And you can’t judge the cost to attend a public over a private school until you review your financial aid letters from both and receive college admissions counseling on some of the details.

“I do know people who chose schools that perhaps offered less immediate opportunities but saved them a lot of money to pursue things in the future that they couldn’t have done if they were in debt,” Morris says. 

Consider: Making up the difference with student loans

“Students should be wary of getting in debt, but if it’s a good program for what you’re studying for, [student loans] might be worth it,” says Morris.

When you look at your financial aid statement, first count up the grants you’ve been awarded. Grants are “free money” that you will not have to give back. Add in your other free money—scholarships—and consider any work-study amounts you’ve been awarded. Then subtract that total from the school’s cost to attend (include tuition, room, board, travel expenses, etc.). The rest is how much money you will be expected to pay—or borrow.

Do this exercise for every school that offers you a financial aid package. When you’ve factored in each package, you can compare how much each college will cost you out of pocket.

Are you willing to pay that much for that degree? Will you be able to repay your student loans without problems? If student loans will be a big part of how you pay for college, do your research before accepting them. Determine your rates, when and how much you’ll start paying them back and how to contact the lender with questions.

Do your homework on student loans so you borrow only what you need.


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