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Posted on Jun 2, 2015 | 0 comments

College costs 101: Explore the real costs of college.

Tuition, fees, housing, books, financial aid, student loans, college savings plans. Yikes! With so many factors to consider, you might need a degree just to master the cost of attending college.

Fortunately, admissions representatives from Spokane-area four-year universities have provided STCU members with a short course on shopping for higher education.

Ready? Class is now in session!

Sticker price v. net price.

The average price of a four-year public college in Washington was $10,846 per year in 2014, $6,602 in Idaho. Yet, very few students actually paid that much.

Take time to dig deep to find each college’s net price — sticker price less scholarships and grants offered –- that you may have to pay to attend. The number may surprise you.

“Do not rule out a school based on sticker price,” says Marianne Hansen, director of admissions at Whitworth University. “Apply to the school and don’t make any final decisions until you receive their financial aid award.”

Most college websites have calculators to help determine your net price, or use the College Board’s net price calculatorThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. or the U.S. Department of Education’s College ScorecardThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU..

Plan ahead. Way ahead.

Getting a head start can help you ease the financial burden of college. College savings plans, also known as 529 plans, are offered by many states, including Washington’s Guaranteed Education TuitionThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. (GET) and Idaho’s IDealThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU.. Some allow you to pay for future tuition incrementally — and at today’s prices! That can be a real bargain, considering the rising cost of tuition.

“Grandparents who want to help with their grandchildren’s education can contribute to a 529 college savings plan and receive tax breaks,” says Jens Larson, manager of student communication strategies at Eastern Washington University.

When the time comes, the tuition credits can be used at any qualifying institution, public or private, throughout the nation. (Check your state’s plan for any exclusions or limitations.)

If you’re in middle school

Some Washington middle school students may qualify for free college education. The College Bound Scholarship program promises to pay tuition for Washington students from low-income families, if they earn high grades and graduate on time. But you must sign up in seventh or eighth grade, and remain committed to the program through high school.

If you’re a high school sophomore.

Your sophomore year is the best time to decide if a dual credit program makes sense for you. Washington’s Running Start allows high school juniors and seniors to take college courses without paying college tuition. You receive both high school and college credits, completing college sooner and paying less.

If you’re a high school junior.

Your junior year is the best time to choose elective classes that prepare you for college and boost your chance at earning scholarships.

Choose classes that prepare you for college and may later reduce your number of college requirements –- and tuition -– to complete math, science, and foreign language courses. Taking Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes offered by your high school is another way to “test out” of some college course requirements.

Income v. expenses.

Use this monthly college budgeting worksheet to track your income and expenses.

Use this monthly college budgeting worksheet to track your income and expenses.

When you’re ready to apply for college admission, there will be a number of deadlines and requirements to receive the best possible financial aid, discounts and benefits. Most colleges have application fees, which sometimes are waived upon request. Using the Common ApplicationThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. may simplify the process of applying to multiple schools.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU.). Use estimates to file the FAFSA if you don’t have exact numbers for your family’s income, then update the figures after your family files its tax return.

“We are seeing more families complete the FAFSA each year” to qualify for grants and other financial aid, says Jocelyn De Jong, director of recruitment at Washington State University. “Don’t miss out on these opportunities by submitting the FAFSA late.”

More than $122 billion in scholarships and grants are awarded each year, according to the College Board. Your time and effort to research, consult with others, and plan for college ahead of time could save you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your education.

Common college myths

Not everything you see in the movies or hear from friends is true. Our college admissions advisers debunked some popular myths below:

My initial financial aid award notification letter is what I’ll receive.
Not necessarily. A financial aid award is not a guarantee — you may receive more or less when you get to college.

I’m more likely to get accepted if my parents attended.
Not true. Colleges will focus their evaluation of you based on your application materials, academic history, etc.

If my parents give money to the college, I’m more likely to be accepted.
Sorry. Your admission to a college is based on your performance, not your family’s legacy.

My parents make too much money, so it doesn’t make sense to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU.).
Nope. Your eligibility is determined by a mathematical formula, not by your parents’ income alone. Plus, some colleges won’t even consider you for scholarships if you don’t complete the FAFSA.

I should fill out my FAFSA only after my family files taxes.
Don’t do this! Fill out your FAFSA by your college’s deadline, and use estimates if you have to.

Financial aid is based on grades.
Not exactly true. Academic scholarships might be based on grades, but most grants, loans, work-study, and even some academic scholarships don’t consider your grades at all.


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