Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bestcollegebuys.com


One of my favorite websites is bestbookbuys.com.

I hate to shop, but I love good deals. Bestbookbuys allows me the best of both worlds. It puts everything at my fingertips. Once I tell bestbookbuys what I want, they tell me where I can get my book, starting with the cheapest place first. It doesn't just tell you the cheapest price of the book...it tells you the cheapest price including shipping and taxes (i.e. the hidden fees that vary from something like $.97 to $3.95...which can really change the price of your book!).

Wouldn't it be nice to have a website like bestbookbuys to help break down college expenses?

I must admit, I'm ignorant in this area. As I help kids enroll in college, I encourage kids to choose based on my knowledge that private institutions are extremely expensive, 4-year universities are next on the list, and 2-year colleges are the cheapest option. I guess I kind of assume that within those 3 categories, cost is about the same in each.

However, all things are not created equal, as I'm quickly learning.

Truth of the matter is, all of the costs are never really revealed until after our unexperienced-with-life college students get the bill. Maybe their original sticker price is pretty much the same in each category. After that, though, each school varies on how much they'll offer in grants and loans. Without very intense comparison shopping tactics and lots of direct questioning, the true cost and all of the facts aren't revealed.

So, what happens to these unexpereinced-with-life young adults who decide college is a viable path they want to take?

Here's my assessment of what happens: They decide to go to college. They apply for their financial aid. The college says they've received their college and financial aid application. The exact amount of financial aid they will receive in comparison to what they will actually owe is not necessarily revealed...certainly not if you haven't completely decided on that college. The college offers them several different grants (only for their freshman year, but they don't see that part of the clause). These grants seem to pay for most of their college expenses...except for books...and rent...and food (minor glitches that young adults on their own don't think about...and don't want to consider once they've set their mind on something). What students also don't factor in is that many of their grants are connected with their GPA. (Maintaining a good GPA is sometimes difficult for students prepared in "good" schools, let alone some of our low-income schools where A's and B's don't even translate to them passing the "minimum standards" of TAKS.)

I haven't figured out how to understand all of this and, because I am not their parent, it becomes tricky in contacting the financial aid office and in getting the student to tell me everything about how they're using their money, when they're filling out their forms, etc. Though I can talk to them about different strategies I think will help, it is ultimately up to them.
It sure would come in handy if colleges would give us all of the facts, publicly available in a website like bestcollgebuys.com. Students could enter their top choices and each college would pop up with their tuition, extra fees, food, rent, minus the grants the student has been offered over four years, and adding in the long-term cost of loans and interest rates...thus allowing students and their families (and those of us who guide and assist) to compare and make wise and educated decisions.

Anyone interested in dealing with some colleges and a lot of beauracracy to create that?? If so, let me know. I know some students who could really use the information!
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