As almost any parent of a high-school senior knows, figuring out the true college price tag is confusing. While the full annual sticker price can be as much as $60,000 or $70,000 at a private college and more than $55,000 at an out-of-state public college, experts say that many students will end up paying considerably less. Sizable merit and need-based aid packages take the sting out of those big numbers.
Students, however, typically have to wait until the spring, when their acceptance letters arrive, to learn the amount of those awards, making it difficult for families to effectively plan a long-term budget and posing significant obstacles for first-generation students who may not be aware of all the financial options.
Last September, President Obama announced a major reform to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the government form for determining Pell Grant amounts and guiding college-grant decisions. Parents will now be able to input financial information using figures from the previous year’s taxes returns on October 1, rather than after January 1, which may mean that students will learn about financial awards earlier in the process. This effort, combined with various online tools and political proposals, could make it easier for families to figure out the real price of college. Still, others say these initiatives don’t go far enough.