Financial Matters: Finding Affordable College Options

Published: October 8, 2015 

Category: Blog Written by Calli

Our uncertain economic climate has prompted many families to eliminate all but public colleges and universities when compiling a college list. While the sticker price for tuition at state-supported colleges does appear to be lower than that at private institutions, it’s important to consider the real costs involved in college education.

Budget cuts have forced public institutions to increase tuition, eliminate academic programs, raise class sizes, and reject greater numbers of applicants. Private colleges have also had to tighten their belts, but larger endowments have generally reduced their cost-cutting measures.   As in the past, students attending private colleges receive significant amounts of financial aid and scholarships, often reducing their final cost to amounts close to or even less than what they might pay at a public institution.

Further affecting the total cost of education is the number of years required to obtain a degree. Students at private colleges have a much better chance of completing their undergraduate studies in four years than do those at state-supported schools. A recent study showed that the graduation rates of private universities are 62% greater than those of public colleges.

Smaller class sizes, more contact with professors, higher likelihood of timely graduation, tuition breaks through campus-based financial aid—for all of these reasons, private colleges can be the more affordable choice for college.

When looking at public options, don’t overlook opportunities in public universities in nearby states. Through agreements developed between some neighboring states, many out-of-state students pay tuition at the same or only slightly higher rate than would in-state residents. For example, students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin may be eligible for tuition reductions at certain public mid-western institutions through the Midwest Student Exchange Program.

The Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program allows residents of member states to enroll in participating institutions at a reduced tuition. States served by WUE include Alaska,       Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The Academic Common Market provides reduced tuition (often at in-state levels) for students in sixteen southern states who want to pursue degrees not available at their own in-state public universities. Undergraduate reciprocity programs are available to students in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware,     Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Some state universities, such as the University of Texas at Austin, attract highly qualified students to their state by offering them scholarships that include the right to pay in-state tuition. Other state systems, such as that of the Virginia public colleges, have a tuition structure that may result in out-of-state students paying no more than they would for a similar education in their home state.

The bottom line is to check out prices at all programs of interest to you. You may just be surprised by the cost of studying out-of-state or at a private college. Include both publics and privates on your final list and you’ll be able to evaluate the best option for your family in the spring.

Five Tips for Intellectual Interest Essays

Published: October 1, 2015 

Category: Blog Written by Calli

“Describe an academic interest and how you have pursued it.”

“Why have you chosen the academic major you indicated? How does it relate to your career and personal goals?”

“Reflect on an idea that has been important to your intellectual development.”

“How will you take advantage of the academic opportunities at our university?”

Many colleges ask applicants to write essays in response to questions similar to these. Although they may be worded differently, these questions fall under the category of “intellectual interests” essays.

In reading your responses, colleges hope to get a sense of your potential to take full advantage of the academic opportunities available at their institution. They’re also curious about your academic and intellectual development during high school. How have your academic interests formed? How have you shown signs of intellectual engagement? How have you taken advantage of the academic opportunities available to you in high school? Finally, these questions are often designed to get a sense of how you plan to use or apply your education in the future.

Here are some tips for writing “intellectual interest” essays:

Before you write, reflect. Over the past two years, which courses in school have made you sit up and take notice? Which classes have challenged you to think a little deeper, or changed your mind about something you formerly held true? Is there a class in school that you particularly look forward to each day? Why?   But, don’t stop with school. When you “surf the net,” are there topics that you tend to focus on most? What subjects or ideas do you and your friends get into heated arguments about? When you have time to read just for yourself, what types of books are you most likely to grab? If you had to name a subject or topic that you wish you could learn more about, what would you say? Have you participated in any extracurricular activities that are related to a particular subject or career that fascinates you? Write down your answers to these questions, and look for any patterns in your answers.

Go beyond the obvious. The best responses to intellectual interest prompts go beyond simple answers such as “I’ve always enjoyed math.” Instead, they paint a picture for the reader of how the student’s interest developed and explain why it matters to the student. So, once you’ve identified a few possible subjects or topics for this essay, dig a little deeper. How and when did you decide that this was truly something of interest? Did anyone else play a role in helping you to discover this interest, such as a particular teacher? What experiences have you had that helped shape your interest?

Focus on specifics. Saying you love history is one thing; saying that you are fascinated by the Italian Renaissance’s effect on modern political thought is quite another. One suggests a person who has a passing interest in a subject; the other suggests someone who is truly passionate about a subject. As you narrow down ideas for your essay, try to focus in on specific areas of the subject that fascinates you most, rather than talking in broad generalities.

When possible, provide supporting evidence. The most believable essays will let your reader see you in action, pursuing your interest. For example, if you’re writing about your interest in environmental science, but cannot point to any specific thing you’ve done to pursue this interest, your essay will probably not resonate as much as someone who talks about how taking AP Environmental Science inspired him to start a local recycling effort in his town. Try to include examples of how you’ve demonstrated and developed your interest in your essay.

Be honest. Don’t try to impress the admissions committee by writing about an intellectual or academic subject that you don’t have a sincere interest in. Don’t try to fabricate evidence of your love for an academic or intellectual subject that you don’t really feel. It may take some thought to identify the right topic and approach, but the best approach will always, ultimately, be one that stays true to who you really are.

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