What an Acceptance Letter Really Means

I wonder what would happen if college acceptance letters came with subtitles for parents:

"Congratulations! You've earned a place in the Class of 2002." Congratulations! Your child has earned the right to pay us the majority of your family's life savings.

"The college has reviewed your credentials and is confident of your potential for success." The college has reviewed your net worth and will leave you just enough to maintain the lifestyle of a hunter-gatherer.

"In the weeks ahead, you'll receive an official welcome to the college community." It will include an official envelope in which to enclose your check. Payment is due in July.

Forgive me if I sound like Scrooge McDuck. The thrill of getting into college is one of life's peak experiences, and students have every right to be proud of their accomplishments at this exciting time of year. But too many families act is if they should feel honored for the opportunity to shell out a king's ransom for college.

Earth to college bound parents: Buying a college education is just like buying a house or a car. You need to shop around and bargain a little to get the best deal.

Parents should also understand that financial aid packages are an overlay of federal and college money. The federal stuff--Pell grants, SEOG Grants, Stafford Loans, and Perkins Loans--is based on need alone as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The college's own aid, be it "need-based" or merit money, is offered at the discretion of the school and varies depending on how badly it wants you.

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