Making the Hard Decision

Back when Erin was in 10th grade, we contracted with a local company that specialized in college planning to help us with the process. Our hope was that they could work the financial side of the equation to our best advantage to make college somewhat affordable without loans. Our goal would be to have it in the $18K to $20K range, after aid. We had confidence that our daughter would be able to get into the schools she wanted to get into. Merit scholarships were a possibility, but not guaranteed.

Over the years, her focus changed. First, she was interested in lighting design. Then US History … especially Andrew Jackson. Now it is US History, Political Science, and possibly Anthropology… with an interest in incorporating more pre-Columbian American culture in the school system. She selected her schools, and we did some school trips. Over the summer, we visited Tulane, Emory, Bellarmine, Wash U. St. Louis (WUSTL), Reed, and Portland University. Through her research, she identified other schools of interest: American, George Washington, Georgetown, Bard, Occidental. As backups, we included UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara… and one school that the college planning folks told us we didn’t have a lot of chances with: UC Berkeley.

On the financial side, I had some money that was tied up in an investment come up for reinvestment, I talked to the college planning folks, and they tried to convince me to put it into a particular annuity so that it would be retirement funds, and thus not subject to FAFSA issues. I researched it heavily, and it made me nervous. After months of examination, I finally decided not to.

We went into application season. Erin did her applications, and applied for a few scholarships. I did my taxes. The college planning folks filed the FAFSA and all the CSS profiles. We waited.

Results came back. Acceptances from UC Santa Cruz (with a $4K merit scholarship), UC Santa Barbara, American (with I think $15.5K), Occidental (again, about $15K), Bard (no merit, no financial info yet), George Washington ($15 K + Womens Leadership Program). Waitlists at WUSTL and Reed. Rejected from Georgetown. Lastly, we got an acceptance from UC Berkeley, and discovered that her HS F-ed up and didn’t get the transcript to Tulane. Erin’s favorites were George Washington and UC Berkeley (the one they told us not to apply to), with Bard in the next tier. None of these were schools we visited. So far, the strategy of going after private schools because they give more money really didn’t pay out in the long run.

The aid letters came next. From GWU…. no additional aid other than $5K loan. Berkeley was bubkis, but we expected that. So now we decide: a $60K private university with $15K in merit funds or UC Berkeley at $32K. GWU is a great school where she would make wonderful political connections, but potentially unaffordable. UC Berkeley is no UCLA, but it’s a great school nevertheless, has a wonderful reputation, and does work in pre-Columbian cultures. We got no need-based aid because we only have one kid and we make too much for the aid but not enough to really pay for things because we live in Southern California.

We are going to apply for some scholarships that are still open.We’re also going to contact the financial aid office at GWU and see if we can get some more aid freed up. We might also hear something remarkable from Bard.

If you have read this far, a few questions:

  • Presumably, one can still apply for the major merit based school scholarships as a sophomore?
  • I’ve heard rumors that the amount of aid a student might get increases after the first year (on the theory that they are more likely to then finish at the institution). Does anyone know if this is true?
  • I know I count a number of history majors amongst my friends, many coming out of UC Santa Cruz or UC Davis. Does anyone know how the history department is at UC Berkeley, and how marketable a Cal degree is for History or Anthro? Might anyone be willing to “show us around” if we could figure out a day to fly up and back?
  • What are your thoughts on this process?

We intend to continue looking for small scholarships, as they won’t hurt us for need-based aid, and shouldn’t hurt the merit aid at this point (as continuation of that is based on grades). As for my attitude regarding the college planning folks: on the plus side, they did help us file the financial forms, which was a big help. They didn’t help on the need-based aid side, and we really wish that if they thought we would get little need-based aid, they would have helped steer us to the most likely other scholarships.

Music: … between recording albums … next up Live Concert at the Forum (Barbra Streisand)



One Reply to “Making the Hard Decision”

  1. Daniel,

    I doubt you’ll spend $32K at Berkeley. Since I have a daughter who is currently a Junior there, my estimate is you will need more like $28K her freshman year in the dorms, and $26K (in todays dollars) following years depending on her housing arrangements. My daughter’s bill last year was closer to $24K (including books and incidentals) living at a Co-op, which was a great experience for her. Also, travel expenses are low, since the kids usually find rides one way or another back and forth, or we find very low air fares if we can plan 30 days in advance.

    Looks like she’ll finish up a semester early which will be additional savings.


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