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Ability to Pay Can Affect College Admission

Written by CB Experts

Dean Skarlis writes an interesting article in the Washington Post (Nov, 2010). The question he raises is How fair is the college admission process, especially at higher-priced schools?

Skarlis notes from The Chronicle of Higher Education there are 100 colleges that are now priced over $50,000 per year. That adds up to $200,000 over four years.

With American optimism and a belief in the American Dream, parents and students still believe that with enough hard work and with a fair admission process that a great college education can be obtained. That can still be true, but often not without huge debt.

Here are a few tips to consider when looking for a college education that will be affordable and where admission is attainable.

Understand getting into a college is not only about a best match between college and student. All colleges do want diversity, achievers, and students who have an affinity with their school so they will stay and graduate. But, today there is another agenda for colleges; they want full-pay students! If a student’s parents can write a check for the full cost of a college, the student will likely get in, whether that student is marginal or not. When you consider this, is it worth all the travel to great schools and should your child pick his or her school with you figuring out afterward how to pay for it, or should the cost of the school and your ability to pay for it be the first and foremost consideration?

Don’t count on need-based financial aid. Some colleges pledge to cover the costs of an education at their school beyond what the parent can not afford, determined by financial aid formulas. This cost is supplied through grants (gifts), work-study (student-earned monies), and loans that are capped to smaller amounts. Sounds like a good deal. But, first, know that each school has its own formula for determining need, which may place you in a position of paying more than you can afford. Second, only about 70 schools can actually afford to guarantee they will meet needs, and finally only about 12 of these schools are need blind. This means they do not admit students who have needs on an equal basis with students who can pay. Students who can pay more will be admitted before students who need more.


What do you do?

Spend time and energy looking for good education that is affordable. There are good deals out there that will cost less and allow you to earn a degree that has value without the burden of high debt.


  • Don’t be lured by brand names. Brand name schools are expensive and not as competitive.Safety school, however, because they are competitive, will do more financially for students who bring them academic or other talents by offering merit aid.
  • Think about the niche your student will sell well in. Look for schools that need band members, more talent on their soccer team, students a special gift in art. If your student fits the bill, he will be wooed, not just with a promise of admission but also with more financial aid.
  • Remember community colleges are less expensive and students can commute, which is a savings on room and board. A student can get a two-year degree and transfer to a four-year college with earned credits and save big on half her education.
  • Public universities are generally less expensive and have enough resources from their state funding to be competitive.
  • Look for schools that are no-loan colleges, meaning they offer a combination of scholarships and work to help students.
  • Check out the top ranked schools that have higher percentages of lower income students.

Also, check out blogs at CollegeBasics that specifically identify colleges ranked for affordability and how to get lower-cost education.

What you can pay does make a difference about where you will be accepted unless you fit a particular niche.  Be practical and apply to colleges where you have the best chance to get in and can afford the cost.

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.