‘Thought freshman year was expensive? Wait till senior year.’

by Grace

It’s usually prudent to assume that college costs will rise over the four (or five or six) years that your child attends college.  Grant-based financial aid is likely to remain stagnant or decline, while college costs are likely to rise.  This advice is from SmartMoney‘s 10 Things Financial Aid Offices Won’t Say .

“Thought freshman year was expensive? Wait till senior year.”

Your kid just got her award letter and scored a large four-year grant covering most of her tuition, with a small loan for the rest. So you’re set, right? Not necessarily. Two problems can get in the way. First, the amount of federally subsidized loans a student can borrow typically increases slightly each year; as a result, the college may expand the loans it offers in subsequent years and downsize grants. Second, many parents and students assume that four-year merit-based awards will keep pace with tuition hikes. That’s not always the case. “Not all schools can afford to be that generous,” warns Willamette’s Hoban.

Nationwide, the average private college price tag jumped 4.4% for 2009-10 from the previous year with the average total cost for resident students at private colleges now just over $39,000. Assuming a steady 4% annual price increase and, say, $15,000 in aid each year, the $24,000 difference you paid on your student’s freshman year could grow to $29,000 by senior year.

If your child receives merit-based aid, ask whether the college can adjust it for tuition inflation. And, make sure your child maintains a top GPA; otherwise, they could lose their merit scholarship.

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