How to pick the right college when you can’t bribe your way in

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

Right now college acceptance (and rejection) letters are hitting mailboxes, and students everywhere are about to make the biggest decision of their lives: where to enroll for college. Money will most likely play a big factor in the decision-making process, as most families will need financial aid and aren’t rich enough to even consider rigging their way into their dream schools.

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Getting out in four years without completely going broke is tougher than ever. Only 60% of students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year instition in 2010 were able to complete that degree within six years, per the National Center for Education Statistics.

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For those struggling to keep up academically and financially, it’s important to remember that their dream college is one they can afford, says Arun Ponnusamy of CollegeWise. That’s especially true since every extra year spent in a four-year college can add about $68,153 to a student’s debt load, an estimate by Complete College America.

Ponnusamy specializes in helping students and their families find the right fit for college. In this interview, he offers his advice to college students struggling to keep up with the costs of the college they’re enrolled in.

If students are locked into the idea of staying at the same school for all four years, their best bet is to secure as much merit-based aid as possible. Not all scholarships are reserved for incoming freshmen, so it’s important to apply and reapply each year to all the scholarships students qualify for, says Ponnusamy.

Because each scholarship has its own criteria for retaining it, students unable to maintain a certain grade point average can lose their awards. Unfortunately, thousands of students lose some part of their financial aid each year, with no choice but to borrow the difference for their next tuition payment. But Ponnusamy says there could be an argument for students in this situation to either step away from college for a semester to regroup, work and save up, or to transfer to a more affordable school where they can focus on their studies instead of being bogged down with money concerns.

Those considering to transfer either temporarily or permanently should work closely with thei college advisers and consult at least three members of their faculty before making the move. The last thing students should do is spend more money for credits that ended up being non-transferrable. Every school has different partnerships policies and navigating the process can get complicated, so students and families are encouraged to work closely with the financial aid/bursar’s office to come up with the best solution for their situation.

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