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Posted on Aug 27, 2012 - 06:00 AM | College Tuition | Comments (0)

This is the sixth in a series of articles examining the impact the high cost of college and the student loan crisis are having on families. RSC Your College Prep Expert is dedicated to making college affordable to all families. See how we do it here.
If a low-income family focuses exclusively on need-based aid from the government, are they making a bad financial aid decision?
If a middle- or upper-income family focuses exclusively on merit-based aid like scholarships, are they making a bad financial aid decision?
The answer is “Yes” to both those questions, but really bad decisions happen when families don’t focus on either.
Qualifying for Financial Aid You Didn’t Expect
Noemia’s mother was skeptical about letting RSC’s staff fill out her financial aid forms. Paying for college was going to be difficult enough. Did she have the money to pay for college prep and paperwork services, too?
Finally, she gave in. She didn’t know much about the financial aid system and figured letting professionals handle the details was the best thing she could do for her daughter.
  • 70% of families earning less than $28,000 were not aware of Pell Grants
  • 38% of parents with a high-school education or less were not aware of Pell Grants
RSC’s Forms Department got to work. They assessed the family’s financial aid situation, estimated their college costs, completed all the forms (including federal, state, and college forms), and helped Noemia review her offers. Her mother was shocked. Not only was her daughter accepted into St. John’s University in Queens, but her financial aid package was outstanding. St. John’s met 100% of the family’s financial aid need, 28% more than they normally meet.
By putting a little trust in financial aid professionals, Noemia’s mother could afford to send her daughter to college.
PrivateColleges, Pell Grants and Financial Need
Beth’s mother knew she wanted her daughter to go to a private college, preferably one close to home, or at least somewhere in her native New England. But she also knew that that those colleges are some of the most expensive in the country, which meant she knew one other thing:
She had no idea how she was going to pay for it.
At best, Beth’s mother hoped her daughter would get a scholarship or two. Beth was a good student and merit-based aid seemed like the best way to go. However, RSC’s financial aid experts helped her map out a plan based on a few important facts:
  • 49% of families earning between $35,000 and $100,000 received Pell Grants.
  • In 2011, 26% of families earning $100,000 received Pell Grants.
  • 88% of students at private college receive financial aid. 71% of that aid is need-based.
Unfortunately, the family had another complication: Beth’s first-choice college was famous for its academics but not its financial aid. The average student could expect to take out $23,000 in loans every year, or $92,000 in the course of a 4-year degree. Beth and her mother panicked, but later said RSC’s counselor kept them composed with a “sweet, calming voice” backed up by a “quick wit, informative reasoning, a general, bright, helpful personality.”
The counselor encouraged Beth to continue pursuing merit-based aid while RSC took care of the need-base aid.
The plan paid off. An exclusive private university in Rhode Island offered Beth a package way above average. It still required roughly $13,000 per year in student loans, but that was s44% below what her mother expected. A private college that seemed out of reach was now entirely possible, and the family could save money because Beth would be living at home.
Both mom and daughter were very happy with the offer – and RSC’s efforts to get it!
Blending Merit-Based and Need-Based Aid
Both Noemia and Beth were good students. They followed RSC’s plans and used our tools to improve their SAT scores and college applications, and their respective universities rewarded them with additional financial aid. Combined with flawless financial aid paperwork and detailed explanations of the families’ financial needs led to even more money, in this case, two expensive colleges became extremely affordable to two deserving families.
Families who adopt RSC’s a two-pronged approach to paying for college – relying on merit-based and need-based aid – find paying for college much easier. After all, doesn’t it make sense to get money from two sources rather than one? RSC’s college prep and financial aid tools let families develop such a plan.
Get great financial aid like Beth and Noemia. Work with college prep experts!
Next Week: How One Family’s Financial Aid Struggles Helped Thousands More Pay for College


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