Figuring Out Financial Aid

Parent Soup Education Expert Bruce Hammond offers tips and information you can trust about applying for financial aid today.

Small wonder that today's parents are petrified by college costs. The reality of all those bills is frightening enough, but many parents feel a keener sense of dread because they don't understand how financial aid works -- they only know what they hear. One friend says that middle-income people never get anything, so don't even bother applying. Another tells about a next-door neighbor whose daughter got a full-ride scholarship. Announcers blare about tuition and fees nearing $30,000 a year -- then commercials advertise billions of unclaimed aid sitting in dusty corners. Most people can reconcile themselves to paying huge bills, but the nagging thought that there is money out there -- somewhere -- if only they knew how to find it ... That's enough to drive anyone crazy. A little Q&A will separate fact from fiction:

Q.    How much does college cost?

A.    In 1996-97, the average (yearly) total cost of a four-year, private, residential college was $17,351. At public schools, the figure was $9,649. Two-year institutions are a relative bargain -- their tuition and fees total was only $1,986. (Food and housing are extra at these, but most two-year degree students live at home.)

Q.    What about all those media reports about colleges costing $1,000 per week?

A.    They're true, but only for a few dozen of the nation's most elite schools. Out of 2,200 four year colleges, only 60 had tuition and fees greater than $20,000 in 1996-97. Journalists constantly cover these schools because of institutional prestige, and the fact that their own sons and daughters want to attend them.

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