This page includes more extended consideration of a few of the important topics introduced by the ACG site and a few that I can see coming down the road. At present, these topics are: 1. A Different Look at "Athletic Scholarships" for Pell Kids Who Are Student Athletes 2. College Affordability for Upper Income Families & Merit-Based Financial Aid 3. How the Expected Three Percent Variability in NPC Results Really Worked for Us 4. Links
1. A Different Look at "Athletic Scholarships" for Pell Kids Who Are Student Athletes Next spring, after years and years of effort, many really good student athletes and their families will be waiting for phone calls from colleges offering athletic scholarships to NCAA Division I and Division II - or NAIA - colleges. But, for most of those student athletes, those calls will never come. There are just too many really good athletes out there for the number of athletic scholarships available. Additionally, there are plenty of sports where very few, or even no, athletic scholarships are ever available at any college for those sports in America. I'm not trying to step on your student's D-I and D-II dreams, but I think the key is for students to back them up with a healthy dose of D-III reality, especially from more generous D-III schools. Look at the Compilations on my Results page and you will see that, if you're a middle or lower income student accepted at very generous D-III schools like Vassar or Bowdoin (pronounced BOH-dun), it's like you and every other student on their campuses who are in your income bracket are receiving an eighty to ninety percent football, basketball, swimming, lacrosse, field hockey, gymnastics, or cross country scholarship whether you're playing sports there or not. So, don't hang up your cleats, think D-III. And concentrate on the more generous D-III schools. For instance, Jack Kemp played quarterback for Occidental College, a D-III school in Los Angeles. Later he had a great professional career with the Buffalo Bills, he served as a leading member of Congress and as a cabinet secretary and vice presidential candidate. And Oxy even named its stadium after him. Not a bad ride.
2. College Affordability for Upper Income Families & Merit-Based Financial Aid You have seen that the focus of the American College Generosity website is helping middle and lower income American families find affordable colleges for their kids. But, as I said on our Homepage, the same techniques that work for middle and lower income families can be used by upper income families. The only thing necessary is for those families to shift their focus from need-based aid to merit-based aid while using the same online search tools: the websites and especially the Net Price Calculator programs of the individual schools. Here, I need to reiterate that families with upper-middle and upper-incomes should not assume that they do not qualify for need-based aid. As examples, the most generous schools analyzed in this website still offer significant need-based aid to families with Adjusted Gross Incomes of $200,000 or even more. So, upper-income families should leave the schools' definitions of their "neediness" up to the schools. While need-based aid is calculated by the financial aid departments of colleges from the income and assets of the student's family, merit-based aid is calculated by the admission office - or the cognizant department or school of the college - based on the perceived merit of the student. Merit-based aid can be based on the intelligence, skills, character, or achievements of students. It will be the same amount for all students with those same attributes no matter what their family incomes might be. Like all grant aid, merit-based aid acts as a discount against college costs, rather than as cash-in-hand, and it is not expected to be repaid to the school. As with need-based aid, the variance in available merit-based aid from school to school is absolutely huge, and it has the same range - from schools offering absolutely no merit-based aid to a particular student to those offering over $50,000 per year in merit-based aid to the same student. So, once again, interesting and effective students are in great demand, and the most efficient and effective college savings plan for parents is helping their children become more interesting and effective students. And, obviously, students and their families are paid well for doing their homework, just as they are penalized for betting-the-come. As you parents and counselors work with your students, you will find that the availability and what I call the "visibility" of merit-based financial aid varies a lot, and I have found that merit-based aid falls into five categories: nonexistent, obvious, embedded, visible, and invisible. A. A large number of colleges offer need-based financial aid only, with no available merit-based aid at all, and they assume that all the students they accept are equally "meritorious." Schools with nonexistent merit-based aid are easy to spot via their Net Price Calculator programs since none of them will ask your student's GPA, class rank, or test scores. The Compilations above assume no merit-based aid, so the Grant Aid column in those Compilations for schools offering no merit-based aid will show a dollar amount only with no further annotation. A very small percentage of those schools, however, have what I call "invisible" - an equally good term would be "surprise" - merit-based aid for a very small number of accepted applicants, and I will discuss that topic below. B. Schools offering what I call "obvious" merit-based aid will either have a separate page on their websites for calculating merit-based aid, or they will ask "merit" questions like GPA, class rank, and test scores in their Net Price Calculator programs - or both, and they will usually show merit-based aid as a separate line item in their NPC results. If you take a look under the Grant Aid column in the Compilations above, you will see separate line items for need-based and merit-based aid at those schools. C. Schools offering what I call "embedded" merit-based aid will usually have a separate page on their sites for calculating merit-based aid, and they will ask "merit" questions like GPA, class rank, and test scores in their NPC's, but then they will combine their need-based and merit-based grant aid as a single line item in their NPC results. If you take another look under the Grant Aid column in the Compilations above, you will see a single line item labeled "Need & Merit" at those schools. D. Schools offering what I call "visible" merit-based aid will definitely note it in their websites, and they may also include an explanatory page in their NPC programs, but they will not include it in their NPC results. That's because these merit-based scholarships are competitive, and they require separate applications. They can also be huge, frequently covering all Tuition & Fees and sometimes covering all costs. Among the colleges I analyze, larger merit-based scholarship programs like this can be found at Washington and Lee University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Southern California; but you will find a number of smaller programs offering similar benefits at a lot private colleges. For instance, the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma offers four merit scholarships each year covering 100% of all costs. E. I think that schools offering what I call "invisible" or "surprise" merit-based scholarships are very rare, because I know of only one school that awards that type of scholarship. And I am only aware of that school because my daughter Maria received a scholarship like that - the Presidential Scholarship - at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. Trinity was one of Maria's top two choices anyway, but their Presidential Scholarship offered a number of benefits - both financial and otherwise - that positively affected her decision. Her final decision was ultimately based on Trinity's credibility, its programs, and the opportunities it offered her, but the Presidential Scholarship was a positive factor too. However, neither of us had any idea that Trinity offered any merit-based assistance at all, and there was definitely no separate application for it. It turned out that it's something Trinity offers to students it identifies as its top applicants, but it arrived completely out of the blue - in a skinny envelope - before her actual acceptance arrived. Obviously, I have no idea if there are any other colleges that follow that procedure or how you might find them, but you can always call their admissions offices to find out. Also, Maria's experience proves that skinny envelopes from colleges can contain good news too, so don't just burn them. By the way, the University of Washington avoids the incineration of good news by delivering its acceptances in skinny envelopes emblazoned with large red letters reading, "THIS IS THE THICK ENVELOPE!"
3. How the Expected Three Percent Variability in NPC Results Really Worked for Us I've mentioned the expected variance in NPC results a number of times in this site, and it's time for you to take a closer look at that topic. I'll use my family's experience as an example. The government accuracy standard for NPC results is 97%, which makes its "inaccuracy standard" 3%. But, if you use the ACG Apples-to-Apples method, that 3% variability only affects the amount of Grant Aid, and let's think about why. Visualize, for a moment, the cost and aid headings on all the ACG Apples-to-Apples forms. The first two costs are Tuition & Fees and Room & Board, and they are non-variable "hard costs" established by the schools themselves. Then come three "soft costs" - Books & Supplies, Personal Expenses, and Travel Cost - which would have been very variable if we used the dissimilar estimates from the colleges, but we eliminate that source of variability by substituting reasonable constants for those three cost categories at all schools. This has the net effect of converting those three soft costs into non-variable hard costs too. The next category is actually a benefit - Student Work - where we eliminate variability once again by inserting a reasonable constant. So, the only point of potential variability that's left, using our Apples-to-Apples method, is the amount of Grant Aid, and that variability will not be apparent while you are doing your Net Price Calculator research. As you might expect, if you repeatedly plug the same input data into a particular school's NPC, you will always get the same results. You will get the same costs and the same amount of Grant Aid, no matter how many times you turn the crank. In fact, NPC variability only becomes apparent very late in the college application process, after your students have received their financial aid offers from all the schools that have accepted them. So, NPC variability is an "April thing", and it's an important and fun part of your final decisions. Let's take a look at how it works. First, let's assume that your students followed my advice and applied to about eight schools that you - and they - could afford, that had the accredited programs they needed, that were likely to accept them, and where students like them had high success rates in their chosen fields. By the first week of April next year, your students will have collected all their acceptances, and their financial aid award letters will arrive the next week. Let's assume further that your students were each accepted by six of their schools, your financial aid award letters are in hand, and now comes the fun part, because you're about to analyze what will probably be six flavors of good news. Plug the final cost and aid data from all the schools into your final Apples-to-Apples College Cost Comparison form. Use the numbers from these colleges' financial aid award letters rather than their NPC's, while still not considering any loans as aid, and arrange the schools by the generosity of the aid offered your students with the best at the top and the worst at the bottom. This is when the variability in NPC results will become obvious. You will probably find that your results will break into a natural triage: with a couple schools better than expected, a couple schools worse than expected, and a couple right where you expected them to end up. In my family's experience the maximum swing of the data was about $2,000. So, two schools came in $2,000 worse than we expected based on their NPC results, two were right as expected, and two were $2,000 better than expected. Happily for each of our kids, the schools with better-than-expected aid were also their top-choice schools. May it work out that way for your kids too!
4. Links Here are a few websites to help you in your search:
A. "See Your Kids in College" The purpose of this site is to give parents, teachers, and coaches an easy, convenient, and effective method to turn their kids on to the idea of striving to get a college education. We parents, teachers, and coaches frequently make the mistake of encouraging kids to seek college educations the same way we encourage them to eat their broccoli. Essentially, we say, "Get a college education because it's good for you." But in saying that, we ignore the twin facts that college may sound like work, but it looks like fun. In my "See Your Kids in College" website, I encourage adults to take their kids, students, and athletes on tours of college campuses starting as early as the first year of middle school. This lets real college students model the success we want our students to first desire and to then achieve, and this method works like you can't believe. Here's the URL:
B. A few Take-Home-Pay Examples Certain college majors offer significant employment opportunities with excellent earnings, while some college majors can be lumped together into what I call "pre-barista" majors. Here's a short earnings comparison I did a few years ago using 2012 data. It's still relevant, and the difference between good and bad paying first jobs is even more glaring now than then.
C. Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors Just because a college has overall accreditation doesn't mean that all the programs it offers are accredited. Many specialized college programs require special accreditation. A good video on the topic can be seen here:
If you click on the subject area, you will be given more complete description of the organization with a link to its website. Then click on whatever that organization calls its list of accredited college programs.
D. Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) A very important site for information on engineering, computer science, and applied technology programs is:
After agreeing to their cookies, click the orange box on the left labeled "Find ABET-Accredited Programs", and follow the instructions. You will probably need to learn some new terms. For instance, there is a big difference between "Electrical Engineering" programs and "Electrical Engineering Technology" programs.
E. Free Application for Federal Student Aid
Remember that Net Price Calculator programs provide preliminary estimates of the actual financial aid award that students and families should expect at each college. If the student actually applies to that college, it will almost certainly require the family to complete the U.S. government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid, called the FAFSA, as part of its financial aid application. The FAFSA is complete and formal, and it requires all your identifying data with results logged to the individual student by identifying data. The FAFSA is also data-linked to the IRS, and it allows no experimentation - meaning the FAFSA is useless as a research or financial planning tool. The only byproduct of the FAFSA is the so-called Expected Family Contribution or EFC. Here's the link:
So, few would complete the FAFSA at all if it weren't required by colleges for their financial aid applications, but it doesn't need to be done until after you and your kids have selected your favorite schools, and after your kids have actually applied.
F. The College Board's EFC Estimator
More and more colleges have simplified NPC programs for students and parents who know their Expected Family Contribution. An easy, informal, and anonymous method for getting a quick and accurate estimate of your EFC before you fill out the actual FAFSA can be found on the College Board's Big Future site. Here's the link:
EFC Estimators are provided within many college NPC programs which are even easier than the College Board's estimator, but their accuracy varies a lot. I have found that the stand-alone NPC estimator provided by the University of Washington is very accurate, really easy to use, and there's a hyperlink to it on this page:
We live in a western state that is a member of this organization. Essentially, if another state has a member program at a one of its state colleges, a limited number of out-of-state students can enroll in that program and pay just 150% of in-state tuition, usually a significant savings over out-of-state tuition. Here's their homepage:
To learn more about WUE and to do a search of WUE schools and programs, click the "Students and Parents" button.
Copyright 2020, Mark Warns, All Rights Reserved
Here again are a Word version of my Apple-to-Apples template for your own college cost comparisons along with a Word version of my blank data input pages that you can download for use by your own family: