College Tuition Costs: Why Most Students Don't Pay Sticker Price

by Naomi Mannino

If your child has been looking at colleges, you may have seen a list of annual college tuition costs and living expenses and had an instant case of sticker shock. Rest assured there’s no need to fret! Most students do not pay the full sticker price. In fact, at many institutions, the overwhelming majority of students receive some form of financial aid.

A number of strategies are available to help you and your child find funding for their college experience. Here are some tips for reducing the total expense of your student’s education, as well as insight into the cost they would actually be responsible for.

Apply for Need-Based Help

According to College Board, the average cost of attending a private, four-year college is currently $32,410 per year. While this number might seem daunting, the majority of students do not end up paying this price.

If you qualify, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and regional resources such as the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) makes you eligible to receive grants from the federal government, such as the Pell Grant, as well as state-specific scholarships and even additional need-based assistance. Once these grants—and other earned scholarships—are factored into the equation, your student’s college tuition costs could decrease significantly.

As noted by College Board, you can use a school’s net price calculator to get a customized estimate of what your student’s tuition would ultimately cost at that institution.

Maintain Good Grades

Getting good grades during high school and graduating with a high GPA (as well as maintaining a high GPA during college years) is something you’ll want to encourage your child to strive for—it’s worth money! Students who maintain good grades throughout their time in school can be awarded a sizable institutional scholarship, which greatly reduces college tuition costs.

Sharon Logan of Chandler, Arizona, discovered this firsthand when her daughters attended Azusa Pacific University. “The biggest thing I learned is that financial aid is not only need-based; it is available to everyone in many different ways and there are lots of resources to help families lower the costs of college” says Logan. “You just have to know how.”

It’s important to look into any and all opportunities your student has to reduce the total cost of their college education; there is often quite a bit of aid available. For instance, at APU, 96 percent of students receive financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans.

Get Merit-Based Scholarships

Does your child have an artistic talent or athletic skill? Students from every income bracket can receive merit-based financial aid to help reduce college tuition costs. One of Logan’s daughters received a scholarship all four years she participated in APU’s Bel Canto Women’s Choir, which effectively reduced the cost of attendance every year.

There are also many smaller, outside scholarships that students can apply for. Use Scholarships.com and Fastweb to search and apply for grants that, when combined, could cover a sizable chunk of the total cost.

“You do need to apply for these on time, in the fall of the preceding year, as they are awarded in January through April for the following school year,” says Logan. “I’d suggest a student in need make searching and applying for these a part-time job and do it regularly!”

Additionally, there are opportunities for students to apply for specific grants, depending on their chosen course of study. For example, STEM grants are awarded to individuals pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

“Currently, one of my daughters in the education program is applying for the TEACH Grant Program through the U.S. Department of Education,” Logan notes. “This grant provides up to $4,000 per year to students who are planning a teaching career, which will be a big help.”

Apply for Work-Study Opportunities

If your student is willing to work, he or she can earn money by holding an on-campus job. Working just a few hours a week can result in a substantial amount of savings over the course your child’s college experience.

“When we needed some additional aid for my daughter, she was able to get a part-time on-campus job within the choir department to help offset costs that year,” says Logan, who suggests asking your student’s financial aid advisor about this option.

Be Creative and Ask for Help

At some point during college, your kid might choose to move into an off-campus apartment. This is a common occurrence, and it provides a special opportunity to get creative with covering expenses.

“When my daughter got an apartment with a kitchen, we scaled back on the college meal plan substantially,” Logan notes. “The best part was when her friends took turns with dinner duties. Taco night was at my daughter’s apartment and pasta night was at another’s. It was fun and saved money!”

Logan also reached out to relatives for help with her daughter’s college expenses. In response, some family members volunteered to cover the meal plan while others paid for the housing plan and provided her daughter a cash allowance until she found a job.

Don’t let college tuition costs limit your child’s future. By helping reduce the sticker price, you can make their education more affordable and watch them thrive.

Curious to learn more about undergraduate financial aid offerings at Azusa Pacific University? Explore their financial aid options.