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Financial Aid Primer: #4. Private Education vs. Public Education. Which Will Cost You More?


How can an expensive private institution be more affordable than a seemingly less expensive public school?
It’s all about the aid.

  • More Money:  Private schools may have more money to give away than public schools. In fact, some of the more established (and, often, more selective) institutions have very large endowments that they can draw from to fund their students’ financial aid needs.  More available funds means potentially larger packages awarded to more students.  Some schools even commit to meet the full need of their students, and they are able to do this because they have the money in their coffers.
  • Preferential Treatment for More Desirable Students:  Many schools use financial aid as a way to build and shape a class with certain types of students as well as grow the institution’s reputation by recruiting students that will enhance the image of the college.  The students who fall into the “most wanted” category by the school can expect to get more favored treatment when it comes to aid.  What does this mean?
    • Need-based financial aid packages will be weighted more heavily to non-repayable grants rather than loans or work-study.
    • Merit scholarships will be awarded to those who show less need or will be added to supplement the aid packages of those who do show need.  The school will use institutional funds to create these scholarships.

If your child is at the top of the applicant pool at a given college, chances are that your student will be awarded a significant amount of aid.  On the other hand, if your son or daughter is not in this position, he or she may end up with a far less appealing package and generally less overall financial assistance from that school.
So, the lesson is simple:  If you’re concerned about the cost of college, don’t dismiss a school just because of its price.  Instead,

  • Investigate what the school’s financial aid policy is.  Do they guarantee to meet the full need of the student (as determined by the financial information provided by the student either on the FAFSA or PROFILE)?
  • Assess approximately where your child fits in the applicant pool.  Will your student have a shot at being on the “most wanted” list?

If you feel comfortable with what you find out about these schools, and the school seems like the right fit for your child, then consider going for it and applying!
Andrea Aronson
College Admissions Advisor, Westfield, NJ 


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