Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Going to College Can be Less Expensive than You Think

Don Siegel

As we complete another season in Project Coach, it is important to take stock of some of the critical lessons that we learned during this year. One involves how well PC is doing with regard to motivating and supporting our youth coaches' quests to continue their educations after graduating from high school. This year, out of eleven seniors, ten have applied to and been accepted at colleges. During our discussions with these coaches, we learned a great deal about how they came to apply to and select various schools, a great deal more about how difficult the process was for them, and about how relatively uninformed they were about paying for school. Some also seemed very willing to incur large debts upon college graduation, without really understanding what this would mean once they graduated and began to support themselves. Consequently, one of our goals for next year is to help juniors and seniors be more strategic and systematic about their thinking and planning for college.

As part of this initiative I started to do some research about how PC can help with this process, and came across a wonderful, free, web-based tool called As I experimented with this site, I found it to be very easy to use, and much more than simply a general listing of scholarships for which a student might apply, but also an educational tool that can help a student to organize their thoughts about college, and the information they need to collate for admission and financial aid. To provide you with the flavor of this instrument I will describe my experience with at each of the steps I took in learning more about colleges that I might be interested in attending, how to apply, their costs, and potential sources of financial aid.

a.            I started by clicking on Scholarship Search and then entered that I was a current student, a high school junior in the Class of 2016, 17 years old, a resident of the U.S., and lived in Zip Code 01107. I also entered my email address, a password, and that I wanted to be kept informed about scholarships via e-mail.
b.            A student information screen then opened, and I completed the additional information requested; first and last names, gender, GPA = 3.0, citizen = yes, marital status = single; address, ethnicity = Hispanic, etc.
c.             The next screen requests information about your ACT/SAT/Class Rank. I entered 400 for each of the SATs, and a class rank of 33 at Springfield Central High School.
d.            The next request was to identify some of the colleges to which I intended to apply. I listed the following schools: Westfield State, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Springfield College, Elms College, Bay Path College, Western New England College, Smith College, Holyoke Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College. I was not sure what I would be majoring in, but clicked on the following possibilities: Biology, Business, Education, Health Education & Promotion, Hotel & Restaurant Management, and Physical Education, Sport & Physical Activity.
e.            I was then presented with a screen that requested information about my artistic/athletic interests. I clicked on dance and then indicated that I also played baseball, basketball, and volleyball.
f.             The next screen asked about whether I was interested in scholarships based on financial need, to which I clicked - yes. For household income, I scrolled down and entered $30,000 to $39,999, that I was conducting the scholarship search for myself, and that I did not have an affiliation with the military. The form also asked about whether I, or my parent(s) had an affiliation with various occupations or interest groups. I did not click on any of these, but learned that different occupation/interest groups support various types of scholarships.
g.            The next screen requested information about whether I was a member of any honors or student organizations. I did not click on any of these. Various scholarship opportunities are also available here.
h.            I then was asked a number of questions about the types of schools in which I was interested, whether I needed housing, whether the school should be affiliated with a religion, and whether it should have an ROTC program. I entered that I was interested in two-year and four-year schools, that school size did not matter, that housing should be $3000 or less, that distance from home should be between 0-50 miles, and religious affiliation = No, and ROTC = No.
i.              After clicking, I got the results on all the colleges that I had entered regarding their tuitions. They ranged from $3,574 for Holyoke Community College to $43,114 for Smith College. By clicking on the hyperlink to each school, information on the costs of books and supplies, room and board, and other expenses were also listed. For example, the tuition at Westfield State was $8,694, and when I added books and supplies ($962), other expenses ($1,845), and room and board ($9,795), the total came to $21,296. Information on anticipated financial aid was also presented. Here I learned that the average student received about $8527, and also took a loan of $6,565. Consequently, students were expected to contribute the difference between costs and various forms of financial aid (including loans) by contributing an additional $6,204. These were just “ball park” figures, and depending upon need and the ability to find additional scholarship aid, the out of pocket costs could be less. For comparison, to go to and live nearby Holyoke Community College, costs would be $16,594 (tuition = $3,574, room and board $7,200, other expenses $4,220); average aid would be approximately $5,474. Anticipated loans would come to $3,932, leaving the gap between costs and financial aid/loans at $7,188, a bit more than at Westfield State. Of course, costs at both schools could be significantly reduced by about half, if you lived at home and did not have to pay room and board, bringing costs after scholarships and aid down to $2,974 at Westfield State, and $3,920 at Holyoke Community College.
j.              Given all of this information, the next step was to identify other scholarships that can help close the cost gaps so that loans are minimized or eliminated, and out of pocket costs reduced. The program identified a large array of scholarships for which I might qualify. Some examples that I found were:
a.     Triple Impact Competitor Scholarships from The Positive Coaching Alliance $1,000 - $2,000. This scholarship entails showing the organization how involvement in sports helps to make an applicant better, one’s teammates better, and making the game better. Current high school students with a GPA of 2.5 are eligible to apply. 
b.     COCA-COLA SCHOLARS PROGRAM SCHOLARSHIP - $20,000 for high schools students having a gpa of 3.0 or higher after their junior year, and who are recognized for their capacity to lead and serve, and their commitment to making a significant impact on their schools and communities.
c.      Massachusetts Cash Grants program - The Cash Grant Program is designed to assist needy students in meeting institutionally held charges such as mandatory fees and non-state-supported tuition. It is a complementary program to the Need-Based Tuition Waiver Program. The Cash Grant is designed as an offset of the Tuition Waiver Program for the purpose of providing financial support to those individuals who would be denied the opportunity for higher education. 
d.     Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts – up to $10,000 The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts administers 75 scholarship and loan funds available to students from Western Massachusetts. Scholarship and loan funds help students of the Pioneer Valley achieve their maximum potential by making higher education available without regard to financial circumstance. 
e.      Dell Scholars Program – up to $20,000. The Dell Scholars Program enables more under-served students with financial need to achieve their greatest potential through higher education. The Dell Scholars Program is offered to those high school students participating in an approved AVID program (College Readiness Program). The funding for each Dell Scholar is substantial - $20,000. Students must have a 2.4 GPA and plan to attend an accredited institution of higher education.  
These were just a few of the scholarship that were on the page generated by There were many more opportunities listed, which depended on a student’s particular background, their academic record, and the area they wished to pursue in college.
The point of all of this is that selecting a college and figuring out how to finance going to it should not be done haphazardly, but by doing extensive research and developing a plan to get what one wants from going to a particular school, while doing so at minimal cost. By playing around with in middle school or early in one’s high school career, one can plot a course to achieve such a goal. It will entail doing well academically, but also affiliating with an array of clubs, teams, and interest groups that can widen the scope of scholarships for which one one might subsequently qualify.  My sense is that being part of Project Coach will also be a wonderful addition to one’s resumé, as it aligns well with many scholarships that require evidence of leadership, community service, and working with underserved populations.

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