The Edge Our college admission blog

A Matter of Fiscal Realities

by Katie Z, Ph.D July 21, 2015


I recently came across an article on The Huffington Post‘s blog with the headline, “Here’s Why the College Admissions Process Is Bonkers.”  Now, I must admit, when I hear or read the word “bonkers”, images of a favorite childhood sweet come to mind:



However, given the context of the headline, I felt it safe to assume that the author meant bonkers to mean out of control, crazy, and/or a situation full of actors acting in the most irrational of ways! Before reading on, I tried to guess which aspect of the college admissions process the author felt was bonkers.  Perhaps it was the mania surrounding test prep?  The belief that an ivy league college or university is a “best fit” school for everyone?  Parents dishing out untold sums for expensive college counseling services?  College candidates applying to 15 or more schools?  The pressure on students today to do it all (see, for instance, this earlier post)?  There were countless angles the author could have taken.  However, my guesses all fell short of the backbone of the article, which turned out to be the declining numbers of in-state students being accepted by their state universities.

In-state schools are appealing to many because they’re relatively close to home and, of course, because the cost of in-state tuition is usually significantly less than attending an out-of-state school. The article’s author attributes the drop in in-state applicant acceptances to these vast differences between in and out-of-state tuition costs: “Maybe the University of California system weighed the annual out-of-state tuition fees ($36,900) versus the in-state fees ($12,200). Gee whiz, I wasn’t a math major, but I can guess which students you’d rather admit.”  She goes on to lament these developments, saying that the though California may be in the midst of a financial crisis, that it shouldn’t take it out on California’s students, “forcing them to attend colleges out of state and pay higher tuition when we, the residents, are paying taxes to support ‘our’ university system.”  She has a good point and, unfortunately, these trends and troubles aren’t unique to California.


Furthermore, these developments aren’t new.  For example, back in 2009, The Washington Post published an article on the subject that included lines such as, “Many of the nation’s top public universities accepted non-resident students in greater numbers this year, hoping to increase — or at least sustain — a pool of incoming freshmen who pay two or three times the tuition charged to locals” and “It’s a matter of fiscal realities.”  Likewise, a 2011 article from The Daily Beast suggests that “one of the best-kept secrets in college admissions this year is that many top state universities will be admitting more out-of-state applicants than ever before.”  A 2014 article from The Hechinger Report also brings into the equation international students, informing readers that “international students have become so important to the bottom line that the National Association for College Admission Counseling, last year voted to let universities and colleges pay commissions to recruiters who bring in international students — despite the fact that paying commissions for domestic students is banned.”

Many argue that there are also benefits associated with these trends (e.g. more diversity on college campuses), but whatever your opinion may be on the realities of the in-state/out-of-state admissions numbers, you should at least come to terms with them.  That is, when thinking about where to apply, be aware of the fact that, in general, out-of-state students are gaining an edge in the admissions process at your in-state schools.

A College Degree vs Four New Cars

by Katie Z, Ph.D July 20, 2015


As this recent article from CNN Money informs us, “A college degree costs as much as four new cars.” Now, the cost of a college education varies greatly, of course (for instance, see this earlier post), but as a recent purchaser of a used car who is now obligated to make monthly car payments, along with my many other financial obligations (cough! student loan repayments! cough!), this statistic helps me to better appreciate the cost of college in terms of what it may look like as a monthly monetary commitment.  Happily, since an undergraduate education is definitely a great investment (assuming that you graduate), you’ll be pleased to know that in making a decision between paying for college OR buying four new cars New Carmost families will choose the former every time.

Had you clicked on the CNN Money article link, above, you would have seen that the headline reads, “Spending on College Soars 16%” – specifically, the average amount that families spent on college was $20,882 in 2014 and $24,164 in 2015.  As was pointed out, this change is due to a number of factors, including the increasing cost of college but also to parents feeling more confident about their financial well-being and the overall state of the economy.  Michael Gross, Head of the Higher Education group at Ipsos, was quoted on the subject in a recent article published by TheStreet“Traditional economic concerns, such as job loss, declining home values, and decreased value of savings, are less worrying for parents this year, allowing families greater freedom to concentrate on college.”

All of this information and musings have as their source and inspiration a national study of college students and parents, carried out by SallieMae and Ipsos, called How America Pays For College.  The study itself runs 61 pages but SallieMae has helpfully provided a snapshot of its findings, including:


As SallieMae indicates in the snapshot, “Parent income and savings are the number one source of funding, surpassing scholarships and grants for the first time since 2010.”  In short, though there is always progress to be made (for instance, only 48% of American parents are actively saving for their children’s undergraduate education), the report highlights some positive developments over the last year in how Americans are paying for college!

Decoding Without A Ring

by Katie Z, Ph.D July 15, 2015


Had you been a child growing up in the 1960s you could have, on a good morning, found a decoder ring in your box of cereal.  With this find, you were well on your way to becoming a Chex Secret Agent – you only had the secret agent pen and watch still to find, and with these items at your disposal you could make sense of anything!

decoding ring


In July 2015, however, it’s a sad state of affairs that many of us feel that we need some sort of secret decoding device in order to make heads and tails of our college financial aid award letters (or those belonging to your child).  Why is it all so complicated?!  Well, for today’s post I want to share a recent gem from U.S. News & World Report – Education with you, a decoder ring, of sorts, for your financial aid package, and one that takes the form of a YouTube video.  I recommend that you watch the entire clip (click here to access it), but if you don’t have 15 minutes to spare at the moment, allow me to give you a quick rundown of the key points:

  • The basic components of a financial aid award letter are: 1) Grants and scholarships (the free money!) – know where they’re from and why they were awarded.  2) Work Study – this represents the most that a student can earn working on campus in a year.  3) Loans – look to see if they’re for the student or for the parents, and also be sure to understand the terms of the loans.
  • There are a number of important phrases that are commonly used on an award letter, for example: 1) Cost of attendance – this is NOT the bill, but rather is an estimate of what the college thinks it will cost the student to attend for a given enrollment period.  2) Family contribution – this is also NOT a bill, but is how much parents could look to contribute to the overall cost.
  • Another thing that may be confusing is that some colleges package parent financing into the financial aid award – as a result, it may at first glance appear that the entire cost of attending is covered.  However, upon closer inspection it could be the case that it’s actually parent financing (sometimes called a Federal Direct Plus Loan).
  • Work study and loans help you to finance your undergraduate education, but they don’t change what you’re going to pay – they only have an impact on when you’re going to pay what you owe.
  • If you have more than one award letter and are trying to compare them, proceed with caution, as they may look very different from each other, making a side-by-side comparison challenging (i.e. apples to oranges).
  • You typically receive single year awards in these letters – for a family to predict what they’ll need to borrow over all four (or more) years, they should know what the criteria are for the renewal of scholarships and grants (if applicable).  Also, be sure to read the fine print for needs-based grants.
  • Focus on the net price!

Sorting out the finances for college can seem overwhelming, but if you stay calm and arm yourself with the information you need to make the right monetary decisions given your personal situation, you’ll get through the process, even without a secret agent decoder ring!

Tuition In The Space Needle State

by Katie Z, Ph.D July 9, 2015


It’s time for some trivia!

Which state is the only one to be named after an American president?

Which state grows more apples than any other?

In which state was the game Pictionary invented?

Which state is the birth place of Bing Crosby and Jimi Hendrix?

Which state is home to Starbucks Coffee?

In which state does Bill Gates rest his head each night?

In which state can you find the famous Space Needle?


As you may have already guessed, there is but one answer to all of the above questions – Washington!  And do you want to know something else rather cool about the most Northwestern state in the Continental USA?  As was pointed out in a recent article published by The Seattle Times, “With a 5 to 20% rollback in tuition prices, Washington has become the only state in the country to cut tuition for its colleges and universities this year.”  At some of the state’s public colleges and universities, this translates into over $2,000 in savings over two years – a significant chunk of change! In short, and as is pointed out in the article, Washington’s students and other stakeholders have succeeded in convincing legislators that one of the best forms of financial aid is lower tuition.  This makes a lot of sense to me!

Some other highlights from the article are:

  • Most states have decided to either freeze or increase tuition this year.
  • Tuition at four-year Washington state universities increased by 34% in inflation-adjusted dollars over the last five years (much higher than the national average increase of 17%), so this drop in prices is “a great deal for students and middle-class families that put up with 34% tuition growth.”
  • In an attempt to encourage lawmakers to keep future costs down, the bill will, starting in 2017, tie tuition to the state’s median family wage.
  • Perhaps these moves in Washington will encourage other states to also reevaluate their tuition costs?  Let’s hope so!

Every Heart Beats True…

by Katie Z, Ph.D July 3, 2015


…for the red, white, and blue!  Yes, the 4th of July weekend will soon be upon us.  To your mind may come images of barbecues, flags waving in the wind, fireworks, parades, and…scholarships for college?!  OK, that last item may not be a natural “go-to” reflection when thinking about Independence Day, but you wouldn’t be completely off the mark either.  In fact, I recently came across an article from Fastweb that highlights what it calls Patriotic Scholarships!  These scholarships boast names such as “Free Speech Scholarship”, “Patriot Heritage Scholarship”, “Freedom Scholarship”, and “Liberty Scholarship” – very appropriate, don’t you think?  You should also make note of the fact that one, the “Donna Foss Independence Day Essay Scholarship Contest”, worth $5,000, has a deadline of July 5th.  That’s very soon!  For more information on this particular scholarship, click here.

To browse Fastweb’s full list of Patriotic Scholarships, give this page a click.

Happy 4th of July weekend from all of us at Admitster!

independence day
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