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Paying For College: It’s All About the Math

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My sixth grade daughter already has her eyes set on college at Mount Holyoke College because of its excellent equestrian program. It’s an expensive school, and saving for college is tough when I am simultaneously shelling out money for her riding lessons now.

So when Lynn O’Shaughnessy joined me on my radio show, Talk Credit Radio, I asked her for suggestions for parents (like me) who are trying to figure out where to send their kids to college—and how to afford it!

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is one of the most prolific bloggers on the topic of college costs and funding, and the author of two books,  The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, and a new workbook, 152 Ways to Shrink the Price of a Bachelor’s Degree.

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Doing the math is key, Lynn explained in her interview, and not just in the ways I expected. Here’s what I learned:

1. Average college costs are meaningless. That’s because most students don’t pay full price. Two-thirds of students at private and state schools get some type of grant, and private schools discount the tuition for students on average by 49%. Lynn warns parents not to dismiss a particular school based on the price listed. “Don’t look at the price listed and move on,” she warns.

It’s important to research and find out the percentage of students who get financial aid, and how much they get. She talked about a free tool on The College Board website, the College Quickfinder tool which lets you search for the cost and financial aid of a given school. Using this tool, I learned that my daughter’s dream school costs about 40 grand a year (!) but 375 (of 525) students got 100% of their financial aid needs met, with an average financial aid package of $37,362. That’s more within our reach. (I also learned the average student graduates with $22,000 in student loans—more than I’d like her to take on.)

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2. Math is important for students, not just parents. Like her mother, my daughter excels in her verbal skills and written skills, but struggles through math class. Good communication skills are a big plus, Lynn says. She believes that employers are looking for employees who can write and communicate well, and have strong critical thinking skills.

But Lynn also suggests we don’t let the math skills slide.  The top paying degrees all rely heavily on excellent abilities in math, but even students who are not bound for careers in engineering or aerospace should do their best to keep up. She encourages parents to make sure that their children get help with math if they need it, so they don’t fall behind. “It will just get harder,” Lynn warned. (My daughter already knows she’ll have a math tutor and homework this summer. Fortunately, she’s motivated.)

3. Statistics are surprising. Lynn explained the difference between universities and colleges, and described the benefits of a liberal arts college education. She then surprised me with statistics about the high rate at which liberal arts majors are accepted into graduate programs.

Listen to my interview with Lynn O’Shaughnessy below, and visit her blog TheCollegeSolution.com.

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Image: Robert S. Donovan, via Flickr.com

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