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Student loans and financial aid: How to save $23,000

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When it comes to student loans, financial aid, and higher education, everyone’s got an opinion. They just usually happen to be wrong.

When I was in high school, it drove me crazy to hear people saying things like, “Oh, I’m not going to apply to Harvard. Even if I could get in, there’s no way I could afford the tuition.”

This is wrong. In fact, if Harvard accepted them, these very people would likely have to pay nothing. But people don’t understand that. Like naive car buyers, they truly believe that “tuition” is what people actually pay, and are predictably too intimidated to even apply.

My friends who didn’t apply to these colleges are perfect examples of people who do the job of rejecting themselves before anyone else can reject them. It’s sad, because many of the people who think this way simply don’t know any better.

In reality, almost nobody pays the full sticker price.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money

Here’s my 10-second background so you know where I’m coming from: I grew up in a middle-class family with immigrant parents and 3 other siblings, got into Stanford (where I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies), and secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.

But even if I hadn’t won a single scholarship, my financial aid would have required me to only pay single-digit thousands per year for a Stanford education.

That’s why it’s aggravating to read people, especially anonymous online commenters, who persist in advising students to apply to community colleges and state universities for financial reasons. That’s nonsense. If you want to go to your local university to stay close to your family, or you prefer a smaller school, fine. But don’t blame it on money. It’s just not true.

3 notes about applying to expensive schools

  1. If you’re good enough to get in, top-tier universities will take care of you. Yes, “if you’re good enough” includes incredibly complex socio-economic connotations, but we can’t address them all here. I simply want to highlight the mistaken belief that money is holding students back from attending top-tier colleges because of tuition costs. No. It’s not. If you’re good enough to get in, top-tier universities will take care of you, financially.
  2. Your college is not a technical school. It’s not only about how much money you’ll make once you graduate, like so many people try to claim. There are ineffable qualities to being surrounded by an extremely high caliber of peers. I’m not even saying, “Go to a top-tier university” (although I think you should). Just apply to them.
  3. Tuition should be one of the last decisions you make. Stop thinking about the money up front. First, focus on getting into the best schools possible, whatever that means for you. Once you secure admission, worry about the finances. Remember, if you’re good enough, the universities want you there, and they have hefty treasure chests to ensure that you matriculate.

Harvard dean: “….Never allow a lack of financial resources to stand in the way of reaching for their first choice college…”

The curious aversion to student debt is at once irrational and understandable. To put it bluntly, I wouldn’t take on $40k of debt to attend Chico State. Actually, I wouldn’t pay $10 to go to Chico, and I would rather send my daughter to a Chinese prison than the 4-year gangbang that is ASU or UofA. But I would easily pay $40k to attend a top-tier school like Stanford, Harvard, or Yale because of the education, caliber of peers, and opportunities available at schools like this.

Yet the constant drumbeat of “avoid student debt” produces some funny thinking.

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews asked the provocative question, Do You Know a High-Achieving Student Kept From College Because of Money?. Not one person could provide an example.

As William R. Fitzsimmons, the Harvard dean of admissions and financial aid, writes, “Promising students should never allow a lack of financial resources to stand in the way of reaching for their first choice college.”

Always, always apply to the best schools you could possibly get into.

Does a more expensive college mean it’s better?

It’s important to address whether “expensive university = better.”

My take: Not always, and “better” is different for everyone. But can we stop being politically correct for a minute? Yes, expensive universities are often better than less expensive schools. At Stanford, I met people I could have never otherwise met. I had access to resources that few other colleges could equal, and experiences that few other colleges could provide. I learned an entirely different way of thinking.

The point is this: People assume that more expensive colleges are out of their reach, when in reality, if you can’t afford much money, you’re the very person who should be applying to expensive colleges.

That’s why I’m thrilled to run this guest post from Anya Kamenetz, who has simple advice: “Apply to the most expensive schools you can.”

To find out why, read on.

* * *

Anya Kamenetz: How to save $23,000 in student loans

The average bachelor’s degree recipient graduates with $23,200 in student loan debt. But that is mostly preventable. Here’s one way to avoid it:

Apply to the most expensive schools you can.

Colleges are like airlines. The person in the seat next to you may be paying a fraction of what you are for the same ride. Too many people focus on the published sticker price, which makes public colleges seem more affordable.

The problem is that public colleges are broke. Broker than they’ve been in decades. They’re raising tuition and cutting back on their programs.

If you have good grades and test scores, and you have a special quality a college is looking for, you could end up with lower debt at a more expensive school.

Total grant aid to both undergraduate and graduate students increased from $43.4

billion) in 1998-99 to $61.0 billion in 2003-04 and $76.4 billion in 2008-09, in constant dollars. As you can see, institutional grants—money that comes from the college itself—is the largest source of grant money for college. Almost half of the new grant dollars over the past five years were from colleges and universities themselves.

(image via the College Board)

A private college with a big endowment is likely to offer a more generous package of grants and discounts than a public university—in fact, the most expensive private colleges cover about 40% of the cost to attend for students whose families make $60,000 or less.

You don’t have to be poor to get financial aid, though. Quite the opposite. A 2006 study of major research universities found that they spent $171 million on aid to the poorest students—those whose families made less than $20,000 a year. At the same time, they spent $257 million on financial aid for the richest students, from families earning more than $100,000 a year. To look at it another way, between 1995 and 2003, grant aid from those same universities to students from families making $80,000 or more increased 533 percent, while grant aid to families making less than $40,000 increased only 120 percent.

(Image via the Education Trust)

I met Olabisi when I spoke at her high school in the Bronx. She was a very high-achieving student who had immigrated from Nigeria. At the time she was comparing financial aid offers from SUNY Binghamton and the University of Pennsylvania. She showed me the financial aid letters. SUNY’s offer was for her to take out $4000 of loans a year, at a public university ranked 80th among major universities college that costs $14,898 this year. That’s $16,000 in loans, total. The offer at U Penn, an Ivy League school ranked 4th in its category in the US News and World Report rankings, was for her to take out $20,000 of loans a year, for a college that costs $35,916. That’s $80,000 in loans total.

And then there was Middlebury. With the second highest tuition in the country, at $42,910, ranked far above SUNY and roughly equal to U Penn (#4 in the category of Tier 1 Liberal Arts Colleges.)

Here’s what she wrote me a few weeks after we met:

“I got great news…I’m going to Middlebury this fall. Middlebury offered me $41,810 in aid with $36,060 in college grant, $4,000 in Perkins loan and $1,750 in work study. I am so excited that I will be attending a college with less worries about the amount of debt I will be in after four years. My family contribution is more than $2,000 and it will be $200 on a monthly payment.

This is great! Middlebury said that I cannot take any more loans from them and every student is only allowed $4,000 in loans. I’m very happy too because today, I graduated a valedictorian!”

More than 30 of the most expensive private colleges, including Amherst and Claremont McKenna, have adopted no-loan policies over the last few years. That means if you get accepted and you meet their income requirements, they pledge to meet your needs with grants and work-study instead of student loans. Some colleges have had to pull back on the no-loan guarantee because they are taking severe hits to their endowments, but a richer college is still more likely to be able to work with you to limit your overall loan burden, just as Middlebury helped out Olabisi.

Here are some strategies for maximizing your financial aid package:

1) Fill out your FAFSA form as early as possible. You may be able to get help on this from a tax preparer such as H&R Block on an hourly basis.

2) Don’t apply early decision—it includes a commitment to attend if you are accepted, which means you can’t negotiate.

3) Apply to a larger number of schools: 10 to 15 rather than 5 to 7.

Once you get some financial aid offers, here’s an awesome website that can help you decode your financial aid letter. They break down real financial aid letters and explain them in plain English.

Now you’re ready to get a better deal.

Colleges don’t take kindly to attempts to hardline “negotiate” on a financial aid package. Instead, call the financial aid office and ask to speak to a financial aid officer, or even better, ask for an in-person meeting. Here’s what you should say to the financial aid officer:

“I want to let you know about some personal circumstances that have changed for me or may not be reflected on my application:

  • My relocation costs to move xx miles to this college.
  • Recent unemployment, or illness.
  • Other personal hardships for you or your family.
  • Because of the CARD act, I will not be able to use a credit card for personal expenses.
  • Because of lenders dropping out of the student loan program, I haven’t been able to find private student loans.
  • A common problem: although a stepparent’s income is listed on my application, they are not contributing to my education.
  • I believe that I would be a valuable addition to this school’s community for the following reasons: (Same stuff you said in your personal statement).
  • This school is my first choice, but I am entertaining other very attractive offers, and I need to make a decision.
  • Is there any way that you could take another look at my application for financial aid?”

Good luck. The best financial aid packages go to those who are persistent.

Read Anya Kamenetz’s new book, DIY U, for more strategies on crafting a personal learning path that is affordable and relevant to your future.

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119 Comments on "Student loans and financial aid: How to save $23,000"

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Miki
Miki
6 years 3 months ago

Hi, I’m getting ready to apply to grad school. Could you please do a Grad School edition of this post? It’s super helpful and you’ve done a great job assembling this info here. Wish I’d had this when I was applying for undergrad. Would love to know this stuff for grad school. Thank you!!

Andrew Barbour
6 years 3 months ago
Well, as a U of A grad (undergrad and law school), I take some offense here. Not *too* much, however, because you would be right in thinking there are plenty of partyboy/partygirl jokers majoring in sociology or something equally useless simply in order to get a good Arizona tan. But don’t forget that mega-schools like U of A and ASU accommodate a wide variety of students, and can attract some pretty damn good ones by having an enormous budget for certain programs (U of A’s space sciences and nursing programs, for instance). For those who will not get into the… Read more »
Smarter Spend
6 years 3 months ago
This is one of the most informative posts on your website. I graduated from UCLA with only $8k in loans by being able to secure various financial aid packages. I, too, have experienced friends and relatives not applying to their favorite schools out of the fear that they would have to pay whopping sums of money. The truth is, the more expensive private schools tend to help out a lot more than public schools. My single important advice for students is to follow what Ramit said and not apply to schools based on the cost of education. No matter how… Read more »
Meg
Meg
6 years 3 months ago
My husband and I went to the same Top 30 liberal arts college. He was a top-tier student, and as a foreigner, got a free ride for a 5-year dual degree program. I was desirable, but less so. The school made it possible for me to attend, but only just. I have $18,000 in federal student loan debt, and my parents have debt as well, but we both believe the caliber of education and opportunities I got there make it worth every penny. They encouraged me to go to my alma mater as opposed to a lower tier school that… Read more »
Jason
Jason
6 years 3 months ago

That’s well and good… What I want is a way out from the crazy student loan debt I married into. From what I’ve read, you can only refinance that debt once, and she’s already done that.

Mike P
Mike P
6 years 3 months ago
The key point here is that if you are a top tier student then most universities want to find a way to get you. The grade point average is also only part of the story. I find that the high schoolers around here that do things in the way of community involvement seem to be the ones that have the easiest path to the top schools. Our class president got into the Air Force Academy, his grades were not stellar but our local congressman knew his name just from him being involved in different activities around the area. Even if… Read more »
Elle
6 years 3 months ago

Great post on cutting down on student debt. Another factor to consider for student loans is lifestyle inflation. Dave Ramsey spoke to a college dean and he mentioned that the average student paid about $5k more a year on ‘upgrades’ for housing and meals.

Budgeting and prioritizing is another part of your education.

Steve O
Steve O
6 years 3 months ago

I was one of those students who didn’t apply to Ivy League schools because I didn’t want to throw away an application fee for a school I couldn’t afford. I wasn’t avoiding rejection (let’s just say there wasn’t any doubt about a school accepting me); I honestly thought it was impossible for a lower-middle class Midwesterner like me. I wish I knew you in high school.

P.S. Got a free education at a state school and now I own my own business, which is starting to generate serious income after 6 months.

Mike
6 years 3 months ago

Very nice post, Ramit!

If you ended the post in the middle, it still would have been a post worth reading.

Olabisi’s story strikes a chord with me in particular because when I was in high school I didn’t know any better and only applied to Binghamton!

otc
otc
6 years 3 months ago
Ramit is back. The first half is what brought me (and I would assume a lot of readers) to this blog. The recent spat of entrepreneurship has not been doing it for me. Guest post was alright but it is really something I have known for a long time–it bothers me when qualified people don’t even look to the top and then end up spending as much (or more) as I paid post-financial-aid at a top school on some mid-level state school. I was equally appalled at some of my roommates who didn’t even bother to fill out and submit… Read more »
Bethany
Bethany
6 years 3 months ago
I second Miki’s post. I earned my master’s from Northwestern, with a tuition sticker price of $48k/year. I was able to take advantage of a drop-in-the-bucket scholarship, and now I can waive my Perkins loan as long as I can prove that I’m working full-time in my profession. However, I’m dreaming of moving on to a doctorate. Considering that I’m paying back about $100k combined for a bachelor’s & master’s, the idea of adding to that debt is a pretty sickening feeling. (And by the way, coming from a blue collar family, I made the decision to attend my community… Read more »
K00kyKelly
6 years 3 months ago
I went to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (a state school) and don’t regret it at all. I went there for very specific reasons. I wanted a top engineering program – electrical engineering specifically. I knew I didn’t want to go to grad school. I planned to go to work straight out of school and I wanted hands on experience. The “higher end” schools I had been looking into were geared towards people going to grad school after and required lots of classes I wasn’t interested in taking – liberal arts stuff. I remember the Harvey Mudd rep bragged that… Read more »
pickeju
pickeju
6 years 3 months ago
I don’t want to put down local/community or state schools, but when it was all said and done I paid much less for a degree from a great in-state liberal arts college than my sister did to earn her degree from a local non-residential state school. Much, much less. We graduated at the same time with similar degrees… I walked out of my school with a lifetime of connections and a job with a group of alumni, and she walked out with twice the student loans and sore feet from waitressing her way through school. Call it survivor’s guilt. Staying… Read more »
AD
AD
6 years 3 months ago
I wish I had known this sort of stuff–I considered some other schools, but in the end, I was too scared to try and thought we couldn’t afford it anyway. Luckily I was in the top 1 percent of my class and had easy entry into a great school (my state took top 10 percent without fail) with a great journalism program, but the only scholarship I got was one awarded to me from my PSAT scores–I didn’t do any work to get it, I got a letter one day saying it was awarded to me. It wasn’t so much… Read more »
Rosa
Rosa
6 years 3 months ago
I agree with you on most of your points (though theoretically I didn’t go to college with a scholarship–my parents had a college fund for me that was prepared since my birth and we didn’t qualify for financial aid). However, a lot of your points are a bit school-elitist. Yes, I went to a university that is historically top 20 (now solidly in the top 10) but I realize that not everyone is as academic as I am. “The curious aversion to student debt is at once irrational and understandable. To put it bluntly, I wouldn’t take on $40k of… Read more »
Rosa
Rosa
6 years 3 months ago
Sorry for double commenting, but @Miki There are a lot of posts on the internet about graduate schools, but the bottom line is, if you’re getting a masters, only get one if the career path you want REQUIRES it. There are only a handful of scholarships for masters programs, and paying lots of money for an optional degree is a complete waste. On the other hand, if you’re looking for PhD programs, almost all programs will give you money if you are an attractive candidate for the program. Science programs will pay you 20-30k a year with waived tuition (usually… Read more »
Erica Douglass
6 years 3 months ago
Perhaps if your parents don’t make a lot of money, you can easily get financial aid. But if your parents make a lot of money, schools don’t seem to have a lot of sympathy. I applied (and was accepted to) Santa Clara University, which is a great school. Only problem was even then, in 1999, they wanted over $30,000 per year to attend. I filled out a FAFSA, but my parents’ income was far above the level required to get a scholarship. In the end they offered something like $2,500/year in financial aid. And this was a college that mentioned… Read more »
Erica Douglass
6 years 3 months ago
Here’s another story from my past that doesn’t agree with your article. Again, I’m from Indiana. And I went to a gifted and talented, residential (oddly,state-funded) high school for the last two years of my school. The grading was ridiculously hard, but they had a program set up whereby if you graduated that school, you were guaranteed admittance into any state school. Nice perk–Indiana has some good schools (Purdue and Indiana University are both excellent.) But the school was full of overachievers and tons of students applied to Harvard, etc. I had a friend in this school who actually applied… Read more »
Ken Siew
6 years 3 months ago

Very cool post. I definitely should have applied for more scholarships back then but I didn’t. Students out there (or to-be students), shoot for the best you can get, after all there’s no harm trying right? Except for the application fee and some writing, but I think it’s totally worth the shot.

Bookmarked and shared this post on Facebook/Twitter. Thanks Anya and Ramit!

Mneiae
Mneiae
6 years 3 months ago
My first choice college was USC. I ended up going to a state university. USC was honestly too expensive to contemplate. The expected cost of attendance is around $52000 for out of state students. Even with full tuition on the table, I’d still be paying $17000 out of pocket. So instead of going to LA, I’m in the Midwest paying a few thousand per semester max. Did the money impact where I went? Definitely. The financial aid office won’t help upper class students, contrary to the information listed above. The FAFSA calculation of my expected family contribution far exceeded what… Read more »
Andrew Baber
6 years 3 months ago
In addition to scholarships, make sure you check out things like TA programs. While in school at BU for hospitality administration I worked as a TA for the culinary classes (2x/week for 4hr each) and they knocked 50% off my tuition. Well worth it — not only did I get real-world experience in running a kitchen and teaching peers but I saved ~$17k/yr. Granted, this assumes you have enough experience to actually do the TA work but for those who do it can be a huge boost. The funny thing was that I didn’t even really have any competition for… Read more »
Honey
6 years 3 months ago

I don’t think anyone should go into debt for a Bachelor’s degree, mostly because it is the new high school diploma. Graduate degrees are what set you apart, and lots of state schools have good financial aid and graduate programs comparable to lots of the better private institutions. My PhD at UA was top 5 in its field, and the program I work for now at ASU is also top 5 (different field).

A
A
6 years 3 months ago

Maybe you should take a look at Cal Newport’s website Study Hacks (http://www.calnewport.com/blog/). Apparently having really very AwEsOmE grades isn’t the “it” factor. I wish I was exposed to his material years and years beforehand but I was too damn busy reading books, sucking up in class, and then suffering severe senioritis.

A
A
6 years 3 months ago

I meant to direct my last post to Erica since Ramit already knows Cal.

Kate
Kate
6 years 3 months ago
I went to the same high school as Erica of comments 17 and 18. (Indiana doesn’t have that many public boarding skills, so this is easy to figure.) And then I went to the same school as Ramit for undergrad and an MA. In fact, two of us from my graduating high school class went to Stanford out of I think 6 total from Indiana that year. I don’t want to be too harsh here, because we all know there is some element of chance and countless behind the scenes things that go into admissions…but I don’t think it’s fair… Read more »
Scott
6 years 3 months ago
Great post, Ramit! Quick follow-up: It’s all fine and good to reduce tuition (direct cost) to virtually nothing, but any thoughts on paying for the indirect costs (eg: rent, food, etc) while living as a student and not taking a paycheck for several years? Specifically, I’m a part-time student in Villanova University’s MBA program in suburban Philadelphia. I had GMAT scores high enough to be competitive at Wharton, a mere 20 minutes away…but I didn’t even apply because they have no part-time option and I would have had to have gone two years without taking a paycheck and (presumably) would… Read more »
Scott
6 years 3 months ago

Thanks for the quick reply, Ramit! You’re the man!

Personally, I would still find it difficult to incur an certain loss ($40k-$50k of debt plus the opportunity cost of not working) for an uncertain gain (post-degree salary, which is unknowable before the fact). But I guess it’s a leap of faith either way because the time cost (two to four years actually completing coursework) is far higher than the dollar cost, and impossible to recover.

Anyway, thanks again for a very thought-provoking post and a quick reply!

greg kramer
greg kramer
6 years 3 months ago

speaking of 4-year gang bang…didn’t Tiger go to Stanford 🙂

Josh
Josh
6 years 3 months ago

Ramit,

Great post! What if you’ve already made the “mistake” of going through an $80k Professional MBA program, and just graduated in a bleak economy?

I’ve realized the poor decision, and now I have to deal with it, but the student loan debt can be crippling.

Kelly
6 years 3 months ago

…it is risk vs reward.

Ben Casnocha
6 years 3 months ago
@Ramit #27 — that may be true for b-school, but it’s not true for undergrad. There is no lifetime earnings difference between a guy who chooses to go to Indiana University over Stanford (if he applies to both, for example). Are there other “soft” benefits to going to Stanford over IU? Maybe at the margins, but not close to going into $10k debt a year. I would never advise someone to go into debt for an undergrad degree, no matter what the school. It’s true that the rich schools have the money to help pay for your education. But the… Read more »
Rahul
Rahul
6 years 3 months ago

Sadly, none of this applies to International Students…have to take private loans or pay cash.

Snowballer
Snowballer
6 years 3 months ago
This was a pretty good post, but really there’s so much here that can’t be captured in a single article. First of all, one thing I have learned as a hot shot grad student with a 3.8-4.0 average whose university flies him out to present papers at conferences and works full time in his field of study is… I am not at all unique. Everyone else is equally impressive. It’s crazy, but there’s so much difficulty in trying to distinguish yourself from your peers at any university any more it’s insane. I’d like to suggest more stuff about how to… Read more »
Kimmoy
6 years 3 months ago

I wish I had this advice when I was in High School, I was too concerned about the big debt I would have to take on. I did earn my EE degree at Michigan Tech in ’05 which is a decent school. I applied to every scholarship possible and made really good friends with the people at the Financial Aid Office, so thankfully I’m only 2 years away from being student-loan debt free.

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Mneiae
Mneiae
6 years 3 months ago
I agree with Kate #25 : It isn’t fair to blame the “ridiculously hard” grading of the school. And, to address her second point, it probably was not a good idea to attend the school if you couldn’t keep up. I do not mean this as a personal attack towards Erica, but I felt that getting into Indiana Academy was too easy. That’s one of the reasons that I decided not to go there. I also was already at one of the best high schools in the state, so that was a factor in my decision to stay put. More… Read more »
Meg
Meg
6 years 3 months ago

@Rahul

My husband is Malaysian and got a free 5 year ride for a dual degree at our Top 30 liberal arts college. It’s possible. You have to be really impressive, or fill a specific niche the college needs (like my husband did), but if you do, the money will appear. I’d suggest seeking out smaller, lesser known, but good colleges with regional, not national reputations, Many are looking to increase their diversity and the number of students in math and science fields. International students are often capable of doing both of those.

SP
SP
6 years 3 months ago
This is really really great advice — not necessarily to GO to a top tier school, but to at least apply and make your decision from there. I did not go to a top tier school myself, and my life has turned out great. So obviously I think a state school is an ok choice and you can do well with it. But not even applying or considering them (and yes, mostly due to financial reasons) was a mistake. I wish I read this blog post way back then. You are dead on — I rejected myself from them before… Read more »
Emma Chace
6 years 3 months ago
I went to my state university for my undergrad because it was free, but got a competitive score on my GMAT. I’ve applied for an MBA and been accepted to Bryant (1st choice, and also can live with family while I’m going there which is a huge plus), but I have to send them a large deposit before they consider me for their assistantship program which would cover full tuition. I guess I’m just having some psychological issues letting go of this money to find out if I could get an assistantship. However, at the end of the day, I… Read more »
Olivia J. Lin
Olivia J. Lin
6 years 3 months ago

Dear Ramit,

THANK YOU SO MUCH for everything you’ve done for us readers. You’ve seriously impacted all of our lives and improved the world.

I’m really thankful to have great role models like you and Tim Ferriss. And this article especially helps me because I am a Junior in High School right now.

KEEP UP WHAT YOUR DOING! GREAT JOB.

Abby
6 years 3 months ago

What about those of us in Canada? I’m attending a small private university in Canada, but I would LOVE to go to Stanford or UCSB or another prestigious university just for the experience… but tuition would be double for me.

Meghan
Meghan
6 years 3 months ago
This is a fantastic post. I wish I had the same advice when I first started out! I didn’t let tuition price tags stop me, but could have definitely benefited from a few tricks to negotiate tuition. Now I’ve got bachelors and masters degrees under my belt and $70k in (principal) loan debt. I tell myself it’s not bad debt to carry…even though I’m sure I’ll carry it to my grave. I wish more young people knew that stewarding their personal finances is a lot easier than it seems. Having a Ramit (or taking a personal finance class) sure would’ve… Read more »
Sydni A.
Sydni A.
6 years 3 months ago
First, As an ASU graduate and employee and a current U of A grad student, I am offended by your accusations that our schools are substandard. Yes, we have reputations as “party schools,” but we also have excellent rankings in several of our programs. Secondly, my main issue with the financial aid systems is that they consider your parents income, whether or not your parents are going to give you a dime for education. They also look only at the income and assets of the parents, not the debt-to-income ratio. I qualified for very little in assistance because my Dad… Read more »
A.S.
A.S.
6 years 3 months ago
I agree with Ramit & Anya that IF you can get an “elite” degree for cheap, why not do it? (That is, unless you’re another Bill Gates or Michael Dell, in which case school would be a waste of your time). BUT, I disagree with Ramit & Anya on getting the “elite” degree IF it means taking out huge student loans, for the following reasons: (1) Attending a “higher-quality” college does not significantly affect students’ early career earnings (http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/07/elite-university-earnings-salary-opinions-colleges-09-dale.html). (2) A college education may not be worth as much as you think. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703822404575019082819966538.html). (3) The “college premium” number is meaningless… Read more »
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ads
6 years 3 months ago
Ramit hits the nail on the head with this post: if you think you have the qualifications for a top tier school don’t disqualify yourself because you think you can’t afford it. Let the schools disqualify you over academics, but don’t disqualify yourself over money. Many top tier schools have had a policy that 100% of applicants receive 100% of their assessed need for at least 35 years. I learned about this policy as a junior in high school, trusted it, applied to top schools, and got accepted. (On the advice of counselors I got some of the app fees… Read more »
Elisabeth
6 years 3 months ago
Excellent post, Ramit. I second the first comment about doing a related post regarding graduate school. I just got accepted into a graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania but they don’t offer any graduate assistantships in that particular program. I’m looking into loan forgiveness options (I’m going into public service) but I’m terrified of getting strapped with $100,000 in student loans after I finish my Masters. I now have to make a decision between going to a less reputable state school that costs 1/4 as much as UPenn, or taking the risk and hoping I get my enormous loans… Read more »
J
J
6 years 3 months ago

This all jives with the best piece of advice that I’ve ever heard in relation to these types of things. It applies well to college and the job market.

“Go where they want you; not where they’ll have you.”

Shelah Marie
6 years 3 months ago
I am so glad a friend forwarded this article to me. I have recently been accepted to NYU, I applied without thinking about cost — and to my surprise, I got in! After the initial joy of being accepted into my dream school and program, I then got very nervous thinking about price. I could be wrong, but it seems that there are less scholarships and aid for graduate study? From my research thus far, a majority of the available funding comes from the university or that specific program. They have offered me some funding, but I still have a… Read more »
Nicole
Nicole
6 years 3 months ago
Perhaps for certain people of certain circumstance attending Ivy League schools having that “top-tier” school on their resume helps them earn considerably more, but I’m not convinced. I think who the person is and their ambitions (and how they work to accomplish them) is much more important when considering long term income potential. I considered Brown and Harvard. With financial aid, the cost was down to what I’d pay for in-state tuition. Not bad, but that doesn’t consider higher living expenses, additional travel expenses being so far from family, etc. However, if I went in-state, I could get enough scholarships… Read more »
David
6 years 3 months ago
The military reserves as an option as well. I did this and MADE money by going college. I did was as you advised Ramit. I applied for those top schools and applied relentlessly for those scholarships, and I joined the AF reserve. The result was 80% of my costs were covered by scholarships and grants. In addition to that I worked one weekend a month for the military. Because I was in school I was eligable for education benefits. All this translated into me working one weekend a month (16 hours) and taking home $1200. Which translates into $75 dollars… Read more »
neil
neil
6 years 3 months ago

great discussion but i just wanted to echo the comment from post #47:

If you were lucky enough to get a ride through school, contribute to your school and help someone else get through.

(this is especially important now – school endowments are suffering in this economy too. please pass on the amazing gift of education that was given to you)

Andy
6 years 3 months ago

A truly inspiring article. I liked what you said about applying to the best school possible. I am going for Wharton and hopefully I get in. Is a reach for me, but at least I applied and won’t ever regret not applying.

carole
carole
6 years 3 months ago

Private colleges often have more money to give away than public ones. Drexel University ended up costing less for my son than Virginia Tech did for my daughter because their grants were so generous. Don’t go by the published costs when deciding where to apply.

Thijs
Thijs
6 years 3 months ago
@Rahul #33: Not true. As said before, grants from the school (but also organizations and sometimes even alumni) will be there for you as long as you have the skills, resume, or the like. I personally can contribute to this with a story from my professor. He is from the midwest, but applied to Stanford. Got so much grants from Stanford that it was cheaper than his instate-midwest university. For international students, like I am, there is another solution: go on an exchange. pricetag: my home-university tuition (which for Utrecht University is $2000), and I am doing an academic year… Read more »
SP
SP
6 years 3 months ago

i came back to check out some more comments.

I have to add that I disagree with the overly optimistic “lots of top schools will let you come for free!” idea — I really do not think it is so simple. But it is just silly to disagree with the advice to at least apply. The application fee is worth it, even if the tuition ends up not being worth it.

Writer's Coin
6 years 3 months ago

Classic Ramit: “…I would rather send my daughter to a Chinese prison than the 4-year gangbang that is ASU or UofA.”

Anya Kamenetz
6 years 3 months ago
Thanks for all these comments, guys. Whether you apply to an expensive private school or a state school, undergrad or graduate school, it makes sense to think seriously about your debt burden. If student loans are on your mind, I’ll be conducting a live video Webcast on the subject at the Brazen Careerist website this Thursday, April 8, from 8-9 pm, covering: * How to limit debt before it starts * How to best deal with repaying your debts * How to craft a “personal learning path” that is affordable, accessible, and relevant http://www.brazencareerist.com/webinar/anya/
Nick
Nick
6 years 3 months ago
Great post. Just to offer another real world example to back Ramit up… I’m from a middle class family and went to Yale. When I tell people they almost always ask as a follow up “Whoa. You must have tons of student loans.” Actually, not at all. I graduated with 9K in student loans… all I did was fill out my FAFSA and applied to a crap-load of schools. I got into a bunch of them and leveraged financial aid offers to go to the school I wanted to go to. Definitely agree with the “Don’t apply early” thing. You… Read more »
Barbara Saunders
Barbara Saunders
6 years 3 months ago

I had friends at Stanford who attended there because the financial aid package was much better than the one offered by (public) UC Berkeley. My total loan amount was less than other friends who went to San Francisco State. Yes, the elite schools take care of students. It’s part of their whole brand and business model.

oneandone
oneandone
6 years 3 months ago
Excellent post & something I’ve been trying to tell students I worked with in West Philly. Great comments too; I noticed the people saying that they went to a state school & it worked out well for them had also considered other options and eventually decided on the place that met their needs. I think that’s the point of this post – consider a lot of options and don’t be limited by the perceived cost. One thing to add: in addition to having (probably) fatter endowments, top tier schools tend to have fantastic financial aid staff who will find you… Read more »
RoboJenny
6 years 3 months ago
Apply to a larger number of schools: 10 to 15 rather than 5 to 7. I definitely did this. My friends thought me crazy to pay all those application fees, but I ended up with several options with various levels of scholarships. My dad did not want me to apply for financial aid since he automatically assumed that he made too much money. But I still ended up with some scholarships. The minor amount you spend in application fees will more than make up for the options that will open up. I’m not even saying, “Go to a top-tier university”… Read more »
Brandon
6 years 3 months ago

Thanks for this very inspirational post especially for students who are in the mindset that you have described. Rejecting yourself even before the schools take a look at what you can offer limits one’s opportunities in many levels. Students should stay open to many options.

WHEAT
6 years 3 months ago

life style is more important. in my point of view, it is not easy save money by this way. however, if we have good plan, we may cut down students dept.

Tyne
Tyne
6 years 3 months ago
I remember hearing the legend of colleges giving out free money when I was in high school. I knew at the time I would be majoring in some field of engineering. I ended up applying to three schools, all highly rated: Georgia Tech (public in-state), University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (public out-of-state), and Carnegie Mellon (private out-of-state). I got in all three schools but didn’t end up with any significant financial aid from any of them. I was a good student with high SAT scores (high 1400 when it was out of 1600) and extracurricular activities. I remember seeing the expected… Read more »
sm
sm
6 years 3 months ago
I wish someone would’ve told me this when I was younger. My Mom always told me that it never mattered if I could get into a really good school because they couldn’t afford it. Consequently, I never tried hard in school and scraped by with a 3.2 (not bad considering I refused to do anything I considered busy work.) Then when it was time to apply for colleges only applied to a couple colleges nearby. I honestly remember thinking, well if I can’t get into a good school because I can’t afford it, what does it matter? So, moral of… Read more »
Adam
Adam
6 years 3 months ago
All that is great for the high achieving high-schooler… Of course a 4.0, spelling bee champion who can dunk will be more likely to get into great school, get huge loans and waivers. I consider myself to be a late-bloomer and didn’t really “get it” in high school. My life was wrestling and girls… Now I have been accepted into a MFA program and am ready to work my arse off, but I also face the monstrous debt of three years of private tuition. Have been applying for the scammy sounding loans found on the web but it’s turned up… Read more »
Mr Jay
Mr Jay
6 years 3 months ago
Ramit, your analysis is based on numbers the educational establishment is feeding you and your own experience somehow getting scholarships. The reality for most students of the middle class, with high expected family contribution (EFC) calculations, is that only huge loans ( often taken out by their parents) will get them that prestigious degree. In the Northeast or West Coast $100K incomes leave nothing after paying the mortgage and taxes, but the EFC calculation doesn’t make any adjustment for that. How many middle class families can spend $40K a year for two or three kids with out it effecting their… Read more »
Sydni A.
Sydni A.
6 years 3 months ago
You put it much more eloquently than I, Mr. Jay. My “Chinese Prison” undergraduate from ASU has saddled my parents with approximately $40k in loans and myself with $20k…and that was just 3 years of tuition & board! I got a position as a staff member which covered my tuition for the next 2 years (I dropped to half-time so I could work full-time). My continued employment with ASU has, thankfully, provided a tuition waiver for my self and my husband at any of the Arizona universities, so we have been able to avoid taking on more debt as he… Read more »
Mr Jay
Mr Jay
6 years 3 months ago
I was compelled to write an email to Mr Jay Mathews of the Washington Post ( in response his article referenced by Ramit): Jay, I connected to your July 09 article through a blog and had to respond… Do You Know a High-Achieving Student Kept From College Because of Money? Of course there are many. I could not believe your commentary, in particular the comment “I noticed he did not identify even one person to whom this had happened”, like this needs to be illustrated? It’s likely you realize that very few, as a percentage of the total that apply,… Read more »
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[…] are lessons here. Ramit Sethi talks about them. So, too, does Jim Wang of the personal finance blog, Bargaineering.  Jim’s blogs on student […]

ZCH
ZCH
6 years 3 months ago
While I agree on principle to this, I think you really put a downer on community colleges, and assumes, magically, that every well-performing student will get into a high-caliber school. I graduated top ten percent in the class: not good enough to get into Yale or anything, and not good enough to get and full-rides to state colleges. It’s not that I’m a bad or lazy student, or dumb, it’s just the way the cards fell. So I did my time at a community college, and saved unbelievable amounts of money. I’m headed into a 4 year state college next… Read more »
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[…] I Will Teach You to Be Rich gives us “How to Save $23,000 on Student Loans and Financial Aid.” […]

NYCMom
NYCMom
6 years 3 months ago
We’re a middle income family (he’s retired; I teach part time–joint annual income under $90,000). We drive 1986 and 2003 used cars. We rarely go anywhere; we’re very frugal. My child’s initial FA offer from Dream LAC was just over $20,000/year–their total COA is over $50,000. My husband just called Dream LAC’s FA office to ask for some aid closer to what Duke had offered our child–nearly $6500 more per year. Dream LAC’s FA officer’s response to our mention of Duke’s offer: “I don’t know how they arrived at that.” LAC then upped its offer to $1700/year more. Dream LAC… Read more »
Skyler
Skyler
6 years 3 months ago

Nice advice, applying for scholarships is key (at least I think so), I have manged to secure a lot of money in small local scholarships, and have never had to take out a private student loans. It can be done, I would utilize resources that are non-lender based such as htp://finaid.org and this is also a nice reference http://studentloansforcollege.org/financialaidforcollegetips.html

hope this helps some other students out there!

Mr Jay
Mr Jay
6 years 3 months ago
Amazing Skyler, what a wonderful world, so free school is really possible for anyone!! What is the tuition/TCA for the college you are attending? We all would love to see how scholarships totally cover a $54K private university cost. I’m sure a breakdown would enlighten everyone as to the realistic opportunities to come out of the Ivy’s loan free. Teach us to be rich, while avoiding those chinese prison schools. I still think most folks will have to take out a little loan. Perhaps some of your scholarships were needs based? In this case the middle class kid who’s family… Read more »
Guy G.
6 years 3 months ago

Hey,
I think the problem with many young people getting ready for school is that they are sometimes lazy, but mostly so focused on all the things they’re doing just trying to get accepted, that they don’t even take the time to apply for the grants.

My sister is a perfect example. She’s now stressed about getting a summer job to pay for her second year because she didn’t have enough saved and got no grants or scholarships.

Thanks for sharing,
Guy

Kym B
6 years 3 months ago
While your post raises some interesting ideas and thoughts about the current generation in college or about to enter college, I still believe it’s not quite as easy as you make it seem to be. First, you focus more on the “best” schools – Ivy Leagues that have enough in their endowment to pay everyone’s tuition for all 4 years and still have money left over. Sure, maybe for the people applying (and who can actually get in) to those colleges it’s easier to get financial aid because the school has enough money to supply it, but what about the… Read more »
Nmls
Nmls
6 years 3 months ago

I must disagree. The current financial aid/ need-based scholarship system mostly puts pressure on families who can only pay for such a college if they raid the college funds of their other children, stop eating, sell the house, etc., and other insane measures. I got accepted into tier 1 colleges, but the financial support was minimal, and I couldn’t afford to go. I come from a high school where it’s routine for students to rejoice at acceptances from ivy leagues, and then fall into a depressed period when they realize they can’t afford to go.

ben
ben
6 years 3 months ago
I resonate with much of your post Ramit. I came from a small rural community where most assumed I must be rich because I applied to Duke. In fact, Duke’s generous financial aid package made my costs cheaper than any of the in-state schools and included NO loans. My parents gracious agreed to bear the burden of the remaining costs (6-digit thousands per year), and it was a stretch, but they were happy and even proud to do it. I’m thankful to the generous donors to Duke who may my attendance possible, my faithful and giving parents, and my education… Read more »
Public School Student
Public School Student
6 years 2 months ago
Mr Jay and Nmls hit it straight on the head. I’m guessing the author used to be dirt poor. However, if both of your parents graduated college and command middle-class salaries, you’ll get no aid. My older sibling attended Stanford, and my parents basically emptied the college fund (I was left with nothing) and a good portion of their retirement fund to put him through four years of Stanford education. Now, I am currently attending a public school on a full tuition scholarship. My parents told me they would be willing to spend money on my education in a heartbeat,… Read more »
Stefan
Stefan
6 years 2 months ago
I also find this post offensive in ways. I just graduated from the University of West Florida today and can testify that a small, not high ranking university, is better than a Chinese prison. While many of the points made in the article may apply to some, it may have a discouraging effect on people who cannot get into a big ten school. Students who can get accepted to a good private school should go for it, you are right about that, but not getting into a school should never discourage people from making the best out of what they… Read more »
Heuristic
Heuristic
6 years 2 months ago
I agree with Sydni and Mr. Jay- middle class students are boned here. My father makes around $100k a year, but between loans, food, car payments, taxes, retirement, medical bills for my aging grandparents, insurance, job changes, and saving for my sister’s upcoming college needs $14k a year is a lot to ask for. They’re pulling from retirement funds to do it, and I am paying for housing and food. I worked 20 hours a week while at (a top 20) school taking max credits so that I can hopefully graduate with only $8k in student loans. I just finished… Read more »
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[…] Student loans and financial aid: How to save $23000 – When it comes to student loans, financial aid, and higher education, everyone’s got an opinion. They just usually happen to be wrong. When I was in high school, it … […]

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[…] Student loans and financial aid: How to save $23000 – Student loans and financial aid: How to save $23,000. 86 Comments- Get free updates of new posts here […]

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5 months 23 days ago

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5 months 12 days ago

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jennifer
4 months 5 days ago
Good day Audience, I am kurtz,from spain, i want to use this great medium to announce this lending organisation (Rick campbell Merry Lending) loan company which is really a God sent to me and my family. few months back i was in search of a loan to finance my project in algeria. I searched from the internet where i was scammed of $3150.00,few months ago. i never thought i will ever apply for a loan on the internet again infact I swore never to! Until i met a testimony post about this lender made by one Maury who also got… Read more »
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sir vijay
4 months 4 days ago

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Norm
Norm
4 months 1 day ago
There are a lot of misconceptions here. First off, the reason there is a greater increase in financial assistance to upper middle class families is because there are more students from this background getting into colleges. The lower income students don’t necessarily have the qualifications or are even attending college. Secondly, lower income students often get a full financial aid package even with lower grades and test scores and are admitted instead of more qualified candidates who don’t demonstrate financial need because federal assistance is guaranteed funds for the school. I personally know people who have stated that their parents… Read more »
Norm
Norm
4 months 1 day ago
I forgot to mention in my previous post about those who do not demonstrate financial need, I’m talking about the majority of the middle working class families who fafsa has decided that we do not need assistance. Just because we have decided to be responsible, to work and pay taxes, to put away money for our children’s college funds, we automatically don’t need assistance, but those who lie on their fafsa applications or get to stay home and raise their children with government assistance, those are the ones with the full financial aid packages. In regards to applying to the… Read more »
Shaw
2 months 29 days ago
I remember the first time i took out a loan for my business i knew it was time to grow but the fear of loosing keept me hunged for a long time but then i took the bold step and now i do not think i can ever been in debts again. sometimes its most important to take risk especially in your business if you want to grow. this is the second time i am getting a loan from this lender johnsonmagnus67@gmail.com thank to this man Mr Johnson so far he is the only loan lender i am sure anyone… Read more »
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2 months 9 days ago

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2 months 4 days ago

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2 months 3 days ago

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Ramzan
2 months 3 days ago

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Chris Salamone
1 month 26 days ago
Most people say the first year of law school is the most difficult, and if you can get through that, the next two years are much more manageable. With this heavy course load and thousands of pages of reading for each class, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Part of the reason the first year is so difficult is that you are still adjusting to a new style of teaching, learning, and evaluation. Mr Chris Salamone formerly served as a faculty member at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and served as a… Read more »
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Alexander Smith
1 month 25 days ago
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1 month 25 days ago

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tsegaye
1 month 24 days ago

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Christy Leigh Home Decor
1 month 24 days ago

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abl software
1 month 21 days ago

Great tips and information on how to save money on you student loan.It is quite a good source of information and step by step ways to achieve it.

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1 month 12 days ago

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1 month 2 hours ago

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29 days 8 hours ago

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28 days 14 hours ago

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Irene
9 days 1 hour ago
Hello Everybody, My name is Mrs.Irene Query. I live in Philippines and i am a happy woman today? and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to him, he gave me happiness to me and my family, i was in need of a loan of $150,000.00 to start my life all over as i am a single mother with 2 kids I met this honest and GOD fearing man loan lender that help me with a loan of$150,000.00 US. Dollar, he is… Read more »
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6 days 12 hours ago

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3 days 6 hours ago

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