Financing a college education is a problem I identify with this fall: my eighteen-year-old son is now a freshman in college, and his brother is two years behind him. Hundreds of parents who are facing college costs for the first time are in a state of near shock.

I used to be a high school counselor and am now a college dean of admissions, and I have discussed the opportunities of the college experience with many students and parents. When they hear that it will cost $4,568 per year (1976–77 mean for private four-year colleges) for a student to attend X college or $2,790 per year (1976–77 mean for public four-year colleges) for a student to attend Y university, many automatically turn off the possibility of X or Y right on the spot. But let’s explore the alternatives of financing a college education.

I believe that a student should be able to attend the college that will best serve and develop his or her abilities regardless of costs. The basic responsibility for paying the cost of education rests with the student and his family. Financial aid from various sources is supplementary to the family’s efforts. For the best chances of receiving aid, a student must plan ahead. Among the many possible sources of aid are colleges and universities, federally supported programs, state scholarships and loan programs, commercial banks, and insurance companies.

As I walk across our campus, I often see a student whose family simply cannot afford to send him to our college. But here he is with a pile of books under his arm. How do they do it? Tremendous sacrifice by the parents, to be sure. Plus the son’s willingness to work part-time as a janitor in a downtown Seattle office and hold a summer job as a deckhand in the salmon fleet. But there is more. He has a financial-aid package that includes a federal grant, a college scholarship, and a loan. This story of the janitor-fisherman-student is repeated thousands of times across our nation’s campuses.

Financial-aid packages are usually awarded to students who have a demonstrated financial need. To determine a student’s need, colleges use the services of either the College Scholarship Service (its forms are called “Financial Aid Form” and “Parents’ Confidential Statement”) or the American College Testing Student Need Analysis Service (“Family Financial Statement”). These organizations review the information supplied by the student and his parents and estimate a reasonable family contribution to one year’s education.

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Many parents hesitate to supply the confidential information necessary for this evaluation. They should understand that the financial statement is considered strictly confidential. Many years of experience have gone into developing these need-analysis guidelines that are used nationwide by colleges and scholarship programs. The method that has evolved is, in my opinion, just. The same procedure is used for all students, but the expected contribution varies according to such factors as income, assets, size of family, and expenses. (For more information on the complex process of evaluating the family need, send for the very helpful brochure entitled “Meeting College Costs—A Guide For Parents and Students.” See the bibliographical list at the end of this article.)

After the amount of need—the difference between the educational costs and the amount that the student’s family can provide—is determined, a financial-aid package is awarded. The package may not, however, supply the total amount of the demonstrated need. The award extends over one year, and the student must reapply for subsequent years.

The estimated costs for a year of college are shown in the following tables, published by the College Entrance Examination Board in an excellent manual entitled Student Expenses at Post-Secondary Institutions 1976–77.

Costs can differ greatly from one institution to another, so a student should make an estimate for each college he is considering. The costs also can differ considerably from one family to another, depending upon the circumstances and life style of the student.

The following questions on financing a college education are those most often asked by parents and students:

Question. What level of family income will exclude the possibility of financial aid?

Answer. So many variables are involved that it is impossible to set an income ceiling, though a truly wealthy family should not apply. Generally, the higher the educational costs of the college, the higher the income level at which the student could still qualify for assistance.

Q. What if the parents will not pay the expected family contribution?

A. That is a matter that has to be resolved within the family. Under certain rigid conditions the student can be declared independent and can be considered for a financial-aid package on the basis of a Student Financial Statement.

Q. What if the parents will not complete the financial statement?

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A. This document is essential. Without it, federal aid cannot be administered. The document is strictly confidential.

Q. Which form does the family fill out, the Financial Aid Form, the Parents’ Confidential Statement, or the Family Financial Statement?

A. Check to see which scholarship service the chosen college prefers. The forms can be secured in a high school counselor’s office.

Q. When does the student apply for aid?

A. Most colleges ask that the prospective student have all admissions and financial-aid credentials completed by some date between February and April. Check the deadline of the chosen college, and allow three to four weeks of lead time for the family’s financial statement to be analyzed by the evaluation service and returned to the college.

Q. When are financial-aid packages announced?

A. Normally, for the fall term, between March and May, although late packages may be awarded through the summer. Most colleges also offer aid packages to students starting at other times during the year.

Q. How does the student apply for the federally administered Basic Educational Opportunity Grant Program?

A. Apply at any time; applications are available from U.S. post offices, high schools, and colleges. Submit the form to the federal government, not the college.

Q. What financial aid is available to the adult student?

A. If he has a documented need, he is eligible for all federal programs and some additional programs if he has not previously earned a bachelor’s degree. A few colleges offer free tuition to senior citizens.

Q. How can a student finance a college education if his family does not have a documented need or simply cannot meet the expected family contribution?

A. There are a number of possibilities:

1. Attend a local community college for one or two years and then transfer to a four-year college.

2. Attend a community college or vocational school to develop a salable skill, then use that vocational skill to finance college.

3. Attend a local four-year public or private college as a commuter.

4. Choose a college in an urban area where part-time jobs and summer work are more readily available.

5. Choose a college that has “no-need” scholarships. These scholarships are based on past academic achievement, regardless of need. The “need” and “no-need” scholarship issue is hotly debated in the nation’s academic community at the present time.

6. Take the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. It is a very competitive program, but many attractive “no-need” scholarships are available.

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7. Many colleges have “no-need” athletic scholarships for both men and women.

8. Some colleges have “no-need” talent scholarships (e.g., music, drama, debate).

9. Try night school.

10. Use the “stop out” method. Work for a year or two before going to college. Take a year of college, work a year. Take two quarters of college, work a quarter. Attend summer school and then take advantage of the good jobs during the fall and winter. It will take five or six years to graduate, but the college degree is likely to be more valuable to the student who has obtained it this way.

11. Find a “live in” situation with an elderly couple or in a wealthy home or with a relative.

12. Join the military and continue getting an education there or use the GI Bill benefits after the term of enlistment is finished. This option is open to both men and women.

13. Apply for an ROTC, Air ROTC, or NROTC unit at the college. This option is open to both men and women.

14. Apply for a military academy appointment. This option is open to both men and women.

15. Take the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) prepared by the College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB). This program is a national system of receiving college credit—up to one year—for what the student knows no matter where he learned it. It is available for persons of all ages and educational background.

16. Take the Advanced Placement Test, also prepared by the CEEB. This program tests what the student has learned in advanced high school courses. A student who scores well can accelerate his college program.

17. Do your homework. Research local, state, and national scholarships available from private and public sources. Use the high school counselor’s library to discover little-known scholarships. Use the public library also. Write the college Financial Aid Office for specific programs. Plan ahead!

Further information is available in these publications:

• Student Expenses at Post-Secondary Institutions 1976–77, College Scholarship Service of the College Entrance Examination Board (Box 2815, Princeton, New Jersey 08540), $2.50.

• Making It: A Guide to Student Finances, Harvard Student Agencies, Inc. (Cambridge, Massachusetts), 1973, $4.95.

• Need a Lift? Educational Opportunities, The American Legion (P.O. Box 1055, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206), $.50.

• College Placement and Credit by Examination, 1975, College Entrance Examination Board (Box 2815, Princeton, New Jersey 08540), $3.50.

• The Official College Entrance Examination Board Guide to Financial Aid for Students and Parents, Simon and Schuster, 1975, $4.95.

• Meeting College Costs—A Guide For Parents and Students, College Scholarship Service of the College Entrance Examination Board (Box 2815, Princeton, New Jersey 08540), free.

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