November 21, 2012

Harvard is Cheaper than University of California Davis (for many)

You'll often see people discussing the high cost of college and while doing so people seem to quote the most expensive colleges.   There are a lot of private schools that cost over $50,000 total for tuition, fees, room and board.    But thats just the sticker price.    When looking at colleges its important to look at the financial aid availability as well and take that into consideration.

Most students get financial aid at most schools.    Some schools have a lot more financial aid money available than others.    You should also look at the amount of aid that comes in the form of grants versus how much is in student loans.   Loans don't really reduce your cost they just help you finance the education.   You pay that money back in the end.    Its not really a great deal if a school facilitates you borrowing a lot of money to give to them.  Now this is not to say that I think student loans are a rotten deal, in fact I think they are often a good tool when used in moderation.  However when you're comparing school costs I'd focus on the free money.

To get a better sense of the true cost of  a university I'd instead look at the net cost by figuring :

Net cost = Total cost - average grant aid

So lets say you happen to live in Georgia and you're comparing Harvard with U.C. Davis.   I doubt many Georgia residents make this comparison but I picked Harvard since its representative of an expensive elite private school and I picked U.C. Davis since its just a 'typical' public university.  

Cost of attendance for Harvard is $54,496.

Lets look at the financial aid stats for Harvard from the College Prowler site

81% of students got average aid of $32,850
11% of students had loans of $4,656 average

For all Harvard students that amounts to $26,608 of aid which includes $512 in loan money.

On average Harvard students get $26,096 in free aid money.

The net amount out of pocket for Harvard students on average is $28,400

Cost of attendance for UC Davis is $54,077 for out of state students.

Financial aid stats for UC Davis

77% of students get aid averaging $12,574
47% of students had loans average of $5,259

Average total aid per student was $9,681 and $2,471 of that was loans, so net free aid per student was $7,210.

Net amount out of pocket for an out of state student with average aid amount would be $46,867

You might have figured that this is a contrived example cause I'm looking at the out of state cost for UC Davis which is a lot more than the resident tuition rate.   The out of pocket average cost for CA residents is $23,989.   Thats cheaper than Harvard, however its probably not much cheaper than most people would have guessed.    But I'm trying to make a point here and this example illustrates it.

Bottom Line:   Don't look at just the sticker price on colleges, make sure to also figure in the amount of financial aid grants available to students to find the real costs.


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