How Families with High EFC and No Savings Can Reduce College Costs

high EFC

This article is slated to be updated with the latest FAFSA, Scholarship, and Financial Information. For more updated information, please refer to our 2023 and 2024 articles.

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions and careful planning, a family finds itself staring down unexpected college expenses. After completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), families are provided with an estimated family contribution or EFC. And sometimes, that number far outweighs anything a family has saved toward college costs. And even worse, though their students may meet the requirements for admittance, they don’t meet the requirements for obtaining a sizable merit scholarship.

While it can certainly be frustrating and even frightening, students and families can be reassured that there are still affordable college options despite these challenges. After you’ve created a pool of schools according to cost and other desired criteria, work with our academic team to determine if a few of them are a good fit for your student based on their education and career goals.

Pursue colleges which use a low-tuition pricing model

When drawing up a list of potential college choices, research schools that use a low-tuition model to attract students. In this strategy, students consider schools with the lowest tuition for out-of-state students. The advantage here is that students will never pay more than the full cost of attendance. It’s like choosing colleges based on the max sticker price, and any number that comes in under that is a considered a win.

Out-of-state public tuition and private tuition at some colleges and universities can range from $10,000-15,000 per year or lower. According to U.S. News and World Report, more than 200 public schools across the country have tuition rates under $20,000 for 2018-2019.

As an alternative, consider schools that don’t raise their tuition for four years of attendance. Some colleges and universities offer a 4-year tuition freeze as long as academic standards are met. The advantage here is that students and families can plan for a full four years of college attendance without having to worry that their financial plans will go awry every year as the tuition costs increase.  .

Start Out at Community College

Students willing to consider beginning their studies at a community college can realize significant savings.

Furthermore, there are now more than 15 states and almost half of the U.S.’ most populous cities which offer free community college programs to high school graduates, and the movement continues to grow in popularity and availability. This could be a boon to families also looking to relocate and are able to choose a destination where a free community college is an option.

In some cases, free enrollment is limited to students who meet certain income limits while other programs are open to all local high school graduates.

Apply to schools in the Midwest Student Exchange Program

For Illinois students considering college in the mid-west, a reciprocal tuition project organized by the Midwest Higher Education Compact can make college more affordable across 10 states. Participating public, private, and tribal post-secondary schools in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin offer several options. Residents of these states who want to enroll as out-of-state students in other participating states are eligible to apply for discounted tuition.

As part of the Midwest Student Exchange Program, tuition is capped at 150% of in-state tuition figures for non-resident students enrolled in select programs at public schools. These figures generally work out to be roughly mid-way between the in-state and out-of-state tuition rates at public schools. More than 7,500 Illinois students participated in the 2017/2018 school year, an increase of more than 1,000 students from the year before.

Why the Fine Print Matters

While each of these solutions can make college possible for families facing a large EFC with little savings, keep in mind that some of these programs come with certain restrictions. For example, some promise or last-dollar community college tuition programs are only open to local high school graduates. Relocating students may face certain residency requirements before they can apply for admission through certain programs. Depending on when a move takes place, it could cause students to face enrollment delays before residency is established.

Some of these community college promise programs also require students to maintain a minimum GPA to continue their participation. Most of these programs require a separate application process, in addition to any admission and financial aid applications.  And program requirements may change from year to year, so it’s important that students and their families stay on top of program requirements and plan accordingly.

Some colleges in the Midwest Student Exchange Program offer tuition breaks on certain majors only, and those majors can vary by school or degree level. In addition, the program leaves the application process and admissions decisions to schools, and also allows schools to cap enrollment in programs. Other program limitations may include the need to reapply to the program each year or meet certain income limits.

There’s no one-size-fits-all choice for college regardless of how well prepared a family is financially. What matters is finding the right fit for your student. With a little homework and some thoughtful advice from skilled advisors who are experienced in helping students find the right school based on their academic performance and career interests, it’s possible for every student to find the right fit!



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