The Not-So-Painful Truth About College Costs and Finances

At first glance, the costs of college look scary. The college board reports tuition for students at a state college or university in their resident state averages $10,950 per year. Private college tuition averages around $39,400.

Granted, this sounds like a lot of money. However, most students do not have to pay these sticker prices. About 85% of college students receive some form of financial aid

How Much Are You Expected to Pay?

The fact is, most colleges are willing to work with students who qualify for their programs to make college affordable.

The College Board reports the average net price – what a family really pays – at a four-year public university is $2,250 – a more than $8,000 discount from the published price!

That’s because what a family often pays will be far below the college’s “sticker price.” The amount of aid depends on their income. 

Many Ivy League schools don’t expect families with combined incomes of under $65,000/year to take on loans or pay anything at all. Princeton has instituted a “no loans” policy for all students. 

The school’s net price is the total cost of the college, with any grants, scholarships, or non-loan financial aid awards subtracted. These are discounts that you don’t have to pay back. 

37%: The rise in college prices at public institutions over the last ten years.

Source: US Dept of Education

What’s the First Step?

Your first step in finding financial aid should be to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The FAFSA is used to apply for federal student aid such as grants, student loans, and college work-study. Most states and colleges use FAFSA information to award their financial aid. The entire application can be completed online via an easy-to-understand walk-through at

Once you’ve completed the FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the US Department of Education. This is a confirmation of the information you entered on the FAFSA; make sure to check it for errors! The front page of the SAR will show your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Colleges and universities use this number to determine the amount of your financial aid.

Be sure to look closely at the deadlines for the FAFSA. And be aware that your state or college deadlines may be different than the federal deadlines.

Some colleges will also require the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to determine outside funding sources besides the federal government; you can fill out the PROFILE here. Even if your school doesn’t require it, it may pay to complete it. You may qualify for a share of the more than $10 billion in nonfederal aid to thousands of students. 

For instance, the Alliance Scholarship Program has awarded millions of dollars in scholarships to thousands of high school graduates and continuing college students since 1996. There are thousands of scholarships and grants out there. Be sure to investigate all options and complete your applications on time.

Don’t let the cost of a college education deprive you of its benefits. Check out these Alliance articles about scholarships, grants, and student loans. Be sure to check out The Alliance College Guide. It explains what you need to know about choosing, preparing for, applying to, and paying for college. All in simple language. All in clear, no-nonsense language.

Additional Resources

FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Where it all begins

The Complete Guide to Paying for College in 2022 – Yahoo Finance looks at how Americans pay for college today.

College Board’s Financial Aid Section – Complete with calculators and estimator tool, an extremely comprehensive site