The Edge Our college admission blog

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!

Something Fishy

by Katie Z, Ph.D July 6, 2015


Over the long weekend I found myself sitting back with a good book in my hands, and that book was Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  I mention it here because of Chapter Three, entitled “If I’d Gone to the University of Maryland, I’d Still Be in Science.” The chapter recounts a true story that highlights the “Big Fish – Little Pond Effect”.  Now, when we visualize a big fish in a little pond, we may well think of that big fish as being very unhappy – the big fella has nowhere to swim, nothing to explore!  Wouldn’t it be better to be a small fish in a big pond?

Fish in ponds


Well, as it turns out, when applied to the world of college enrollment, it may actually be better to be the big fish in a small pond.  Does that seem fishy?  Allow me to elaborate.  You see, the Big Fish – Little Pond Effect dictates that “attending high-ability schools has a negative effect on academic self-concept.”  Gladwell helpfully elaborates on academic self-concept, writing, “How you feel about your abilities in the context of your classroom shapes your willingness to tackle challenges and finish difficult tasks.  It’s a crucial element in your motivation and confidence.”  In other words, you may be a smart and hard-working student, but if many in your class are brilliant, genius, off-the-charts-intelligent students, then you may start to feel a bit glum about your own abilities, impressive though they may be.  Demoralization could quickly become the name of your academic game.

In tackling the subject, Gladwell quotes Fred Glimp, who was Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard College from 1960 to 1967 – “Any class, no matter how able, will always have a bottom quarter.  What are the effects of the psychology of feeling average, even in a very able group?”  My own take on this question is that it depends.  While some students may prove to be resilient in the face of a high-pressure classroom in which their best efforts lead to only mediocre results (compared to those of their peers), their cares like water off a duck’s back, others (perhaps most) may indeed feel more and more demotivated over time.  The key, I think, is knowing yourself well. You’ve flourished in high school – you were the big fish in a small pond throughout grades 9-12. How do you think you will handle the psychological transition of abruptly finding yourself a small fish in a dauntingly big pond?

In Gladwell’s words, “We strive for the best and attach great importance to getting into the finest institutions we can.  But rarely do we stop and consider whether the most prestigious of institutions is always in our best interest.”  In short, be sure to consider more than a school’s prestige when thinking about where to apply.  Rather, give thought to the bigger picture – what kind of fish are you and in what sort of academic pond would you most thrive?

Berea College

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 30, 2015


Wouldn’t it be really great if you could attend a college that doesn’t charge its students tuition?  Well, as a follow-up to my earlier post, in which I vowed to introduce you to some of the 3,026 four-year colleges in the United States that you’ve perhaps never heard of but that have some very cool features, I’d like to introduce you to Kentucky’s Berea College. There are a number of noteworthy aspects of this college, but perhaps the one that makes it most unique is this (from its Office of Admissions): “We award our Tuition Promise Scholarship (which is valued at almost $100,000 over four years) to every admitted student. This scholarship works in conjunction with any other grants or scholarships students receive to completely cover the cost of tuition.  Additional costs, such as housing, meals, and fees, may also be covered by the College, depending upon your financial need. Nearly all of our students receive additional aid for these costs.” Wow!

As if all of that wasn’t enough, here’s some more to chew on (from a 2014 New York Times article):

“There is a house where prospective students and their parents can stay while visiting the campus, as many in the target demographic can’t easily afford a hotel. The college provides laptops to students that they can keep after graduation, and it has a clothing fund to help them afford something to wear for job interviews as they enter the work force. And to encourage better fitness in a region with some of the highest obesity rates in the country, the college president, Lyle Roelofs, has a standing offer to buy a pair of running shoes for students who will join him for his regular jog if they cannot afford their own.”

BooksOnCampus“What’s the catch?”, you may be asking yourself.  There’s no catch, except that you must, of course, be admitted – 34% of prospective students applying to begin in the 2015-2016 academic year were accepted, and Berea seeks to fill its classrooms with “academically promising students who have limited academic resources”, so the college may not be for everyone.  Furthermore, as is stated on the college’s Labor Program Office site, students are expected to work between 10-15 hours per week in approved jobs, either on campus or in the surrounding community. I think this is a great initiative – work experience is definitely a wonderful thing to have on your resume when the time comes to walk that graduation floor – but it may not be ideal for everyone. Finally, you should know that the college, whose motto is “God has made of one blood all peoples of the Earth”, has an “inclusive Christian character.”  For more facts and figures about Berea College, be sure to check out College Navigator‘s run-down of the school.  Also, and as ever, have the good-fit matrix in-mind when thinking about potential schools to which you may consider applying.

Who knows? Berea College may Berea lly great for you!

The Challenges of Success

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 22, 2015


The Washington Post recently published an article about a first-generation high school student who was accepted into five Ivy League schools.  Now with a first sentence like that, you may think that this blog post is going down the “wow factor” road.  I beg to differ!  This is the sentence from the article on which this post will focus:

                                            “Counterintuitively, the priciest schools offered the best financial aid.                                                      At Harvard, the family will be expected to pay less than $10,000 a year, costs that will        be partially covered by scholarships and work-study.”

There are countless stories out there about high school students not applying to certain colleges because the price tags at those schools are just too high.  But remember, in thinking about where to apply you should be less concerned about a college’s sticker price and more tuned into its net price, which is the sticker price minus grants, scholarships, and education tax benefits.  Colleges want to diversify, and colleges want to enroll more talented applicants from low and middle income backgrounds, so colleges will offer generous financial aid packages to those students who they believe can help them to meet those goals.  Don’t forget, a large part of admissions from the college’s side of the fence comes down to one thing – recruitment.  If a college wants you to enroll, and they know that cost is a significant barrier between you and enrollment, then the offer of an appealing financial aid package is not only possible, it’s likely.  Really!

JHAs this article from the NPQ wisely observes, “Harvard’s challenge is also Harvard’s success. Its reputation as an elite university attended by scions of the wealthy for generations, with tuition and costs among the highest in the country, intimidates many academically eligible students of modest means.”  What did Harvard do to address this?  First, they increased their investment in undergraduate financial aid – did you know that “a Harvard education is more affordable than a state school for 90% of American families” and that “20% of families (specifically, those earning less than $65,000 annually) pay nothing toward the cost of tuition, room, board, or fees”?  Secondly, they started a program called Harvard College Connection, “an initiative of the Admissions Office to use social media, email and video to reach out to promising students and encourage them to apply.” And Harvard is not alone in addressing the challenges of its success.  See Princeton!  See Yale! See StanfordMIT, and Dartmouth!  These schools are just the tip of the iceberg.  In other words, if you think you can’t afford your dream college, think again – there may well be opportunities for you to secure funding, and every little bit helps.   

On a final note, check out QuestBridge, a very-cool non-profit that works to match talented, low-income students with top-tier schools.  As the company notes, “America has an undiscovered population of talented low-income youth. Some of our brightest young minds are well-suited to opportunities, but unconnected for simple lack of information, mentorship, and other surmountable barriers.”  It’s time to connect!

Under The First Onion Layer

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 16, 2015


onionThe Onion recently published an article entitled, “Most For-Profit Colleges Started in Effort to Pay Off Own Student Debt”.  It will make you laugh, of course, but underneath that first layer of onion there is, in fact, some truth.  Too many people are taking on too much debt to finance their undergraduate studies, and it’s not an easy burden to shoulder in post-college life.  There is a lot of advice out there, proffering pearls of financial wisdom, and some of it is solid:

  • Err on the conservative side when making estimates about just how much you can afford.
  • Though it may be difficult to calculate years in advance, try not to take on more debt than your estimated first year salary out of college.  You can explore salaries for different careers in different states here.  In general, keep in mind that if you earn between $30,000-$40,000 annually, then $25,000 or less in debt should be manageable.
  • Steer clear of six figure debt!
  • Given that they usually have lower interest rates, take out federal (rather than private) student loans, if possible.
  • Don’t forget to include room, board, books, travel, and cost of living expenses in your analyses.

A great tool for calculating how much college will cost is College Abacus, which shows you the net prices of attending the schools of your choosing.  What’s a school’s net price?  An excellent question! As The College Board’s BigFuture explains, the net price is the college’s sticker price (tuition & fees) minus aid & benefits (grants, scholarships, and education tax benefits).  In other words, the net price is what you will actually be paying for your education – crucial information when thinking about what your future debt load may look like!  So take advantage of College Abacus, a site that “provides a free service that allows users to compare their projected cost of education across schools and to identify schools within their budgets” – I can’t stress enough how important this is!

Identify.  Schools.  Within.  Your.  Budget. 

Other resources to check out:

1) Student loan calculators on college websites, for instance, herehere, and here.

2) The Office of Federal Student Aid, including their Repayment Estimator

3) FinAid

4) Fastweb


Remember, taking on some debt to pay for college is a good thing – it’s an investment in yourself, and one well worth making.  However, you don’t want to be completing drowning in debt on graduation day.  Be realistic and plan accordingly!

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