Paying for College

Aliza Gilbert, Highland Park High School


Our Counselor of the Month for September is Aliza Gilbert, College Counselor at Highland Park High School, a public high school serving more than 2,000 students in Highland Park, Illinois.  A graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago, Gilbert also holds a Master in Education from Loyola University Chicago and is working on her Ph.D. in Higher Education, also at Loyola. Formerly Associate Director of Admissions at Lake Forest College, Gilbert joined Highland Park's Counseling Department in 1998.

Located about 25 miles north of Chicago, Highland Park High School serves a diverse student body, including significant numbers of children from military and Hispanic families, a characteristic that drew Gilbert to the school. She has a particular interest in college access and undocumented students -- her Ph.D. dissertation explores how high schools influence undocumented students’ college process. (The state of Illinois is ranked sixth among states with the largest undocumented populations.)

Changes to Federal Student Loan Programs

The interest rate on student loans will remain at 3.4% thanks to Congressional action last week. But there are other important changes to federal student loan programs that students and families need to be aware of. For example, the "grace period" on subsidized undergraduate loans -- under which the government paid the interest for six months after students left college -- has been eliminated. Inside Higher Ed has a good brief article on the highlights of the new status quo here.

The Difficulty of Standardizing Cost Information for Students

"Buying a Refrigerator, Choosing A College" Don't miss this thought-provoking article by Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the difficulty of providing clearer, more standardized information to prospective students about the potential cost of their college degrees. "College pricing is complicated," the authors note. That is the strength and the drawback of higher education in the United States.  There are more than 2,600 four-year colleges and universities in the United States and they are all different in everything from their curriculums, missions and financing to their football teams and tastiness of the food service. Choosing a college is an exercise in finding the right personal fit. So how can students and families expect a one-size-fits-all ingredient label when it comes to cost? That diversity in cost and financing at a college -- like the diversity in engineering programs or arts opportunities from campus to campus -- creates both opportunities and risks for students looking for the right fit.

A Q&A on Financial Aid at The Choice

The Choice blog at the New York Times is hosting a Q & A on scholarships, loans, and financial aid all week, featuring the advice of expert Mark Kantrowitz, founder of This is a great resource for families evaluating financial aid offers in the run-up to May 1st when all applicants must notify one college of their acceptance of an offer of admission. But even those families who aren't quite there yet should take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about how to pay for college. You can find Part 1 of the series here.

Loans: A roundup of expert advice

For families evaluating their financial aid at this time, here's a roundup of advice from some experts on the role of loans in funding a college education.

Jonathan Burdick, dean of admission and financial aid at the University of Rochester, has an excellent guest post at the College Inc. blog for the Washington Post -- Five steps to a prudent student loan.

For more insight from an expert, check out our own guest post from Jon Boeckenstedt, vice president for Enrollment Policy & Planning at DePaul University for his thoughtful look here at when and where borrowing is worth it.

College Loans: Is Borrowing Worth It?

Today's guest post is from Jon Boeckenstedt, vice president for Enrollment Policy & Planning at DePaul University, who has a gift for cutting to the chase whether he's writing about testing, college tours, or tuition. Here is his take on the value of a college degree and how a student may want to think about borrowing to obtain that education: 

It has long been believed that attending college paid back financially and with a better quality of life in general.

Then we had a little economic calamity in this country, and people aren’t so sure any more.

Some people think we’re in the middle of “A Perfect Storm,” where several important (negative) things are happening at the same time, thus creating a crisis: College tuition keeps increasing, and often increasing faster than inflation; federal aid keeps shrinking, causing student debt to grow dramatically; and the jobs recent graduates need to pay back student debt are growing scarcer.  On top of that, problems like unemployment are even greater for people who don’t have a college degree.

Charlene Aguilar, Lakeside School

Charlene Aguilar is Director of College Counseling at Lakeside School, an independent day school for grades 5 through 12 in Seattle, Washington.  A graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, Aguilar has worked both sides of the desk in college admissions during her career.  She began as an admissions counselor at her alma mater in Santa Barbara and served as Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Stanford and Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Santa Clara University.  For ten years prior to coming to Lakeside, she was Director of College Counseling and Dean of the junior class at Castilleja School, an all-girls independent school in Palo Alto, California.

Can You Negotiate Merit Aid?

Financial aid -- need-based and merit -- is much on the minds of students and parents these days. As we get questions on these subjects, we will be posting responses here as blog post when we feel they may be helpful to a range of our readers  Today we answer one of our readers who posed this question in response to an earlier post titled "Can You Negotiate Merit Aid?"

Darryl wrote:  St.John University offered my son a 10k merit award. He also was accepted to Howard University. His first choice is Howard. Can I use the 10k merit award from St. John University as a bargaining chip so Howard could match or make a counter-offer?

Different colleges will handle this differently. Some schools will be flexible. For other schools, merit aid awards are final and non-negotiable, as noted by Purdue University's Pamela Horne in the article in this post.

However, colleges usually welcome all information about a student's financial situation. So it doesn't hurt to ask. But how you approach the college is key.

What Do Students Pay for College?

Jon Boeckenstedt, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management at DePaul University, brought to our attention the latest report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)  -- "What Do Students Pay for College?"  A summary of average net prices at colleges and universities across the country, it can be a useful tool for parents, students and counselors.

Boeckenstedt notes that while it's not institution-specific, it may provide helpful information especially at the start of a student's admission process as it rolls up averages by characteristics such as control (public or private) and region. The report is available at: .

And for more from Boeckenstedt, visit his blog, Admitting Things, or see what he's thinking about on Twitter @TenSecondCynic.

Help with Filling Out the FAFSA

The FAFSA is required for any student seeking federal and state financial aid, including grants and loans at all colleges in the country.  And the single biggest mistake students and families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid by filing the FAFSA. It can seem complicated, but there is help available -- and it's free.  One of the best resources is College Goal Sunday, an information program that brings together financial aid professionals from colleges and universities along with other volunteers to assist college-bound students and their families complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  Calendars for their national programs, as well as state-by-state events can be found at their website here.