Attending a Private College may Save Money - College in 321

Attending a Private College may Save Money

Written by Kathy deJong

July 31, 2018

Attending a Private College May Save Money

Many families assume that attending a private college is financially out of reach. With cost of attendance (COA) price tags topping $70,000 per year at many private colleges, very few families consider private schools as an option, even though the student’s “dream school”, which happens to be private, may be the best option academically for a student. This may be a costly mistake. Here is one hypothetical case study for consideration. The results may surprise you.  

Bob is a rising senior at a high school in North Carolina. He’s done very well in school, and expects to be in the top 10% of his class. He lives with his married parents and two siblings ages 14 and 11. Bob had a summer job which earned him $500. He has a total of $1,000 in his savings account. Bob’s parents had an adjusted gross income of $100,000 in 2017,  paid $10,000 in taxes and put $5,000 in a retirement account that same year. They own a $250,000 home and owe $220,000 on the mortgage. Bob’s parents have $10,000 in checking and savings. By most accounts, Bob comes from a middle-class family.

Bob wants to go to Wake Forest University, a private college in North Carolina, because it has a specific program that interests him, but his parents are pushing for UNC Chapel Hill because it is an in-state, public school and the COA is cheaper. Either way, Bob wants to live on campus.

To get an estimate of the “real” cost to attend each college, Bob and his family utilize the Net Price Calculators. A Net Price Calculator is required, by law, to be on each colleges website to help families estimate what they can expect to pay for college, including student loans and out-of-pocket contributions. Each school’s Net Price Calculator can be different based on what variables the college uses to determine aid. (More information was used to obtain the following results than is indicated in this case study, but the same information was used in each calculator, if required.)

Here are the results based entirely on the family’s financial situation and not on any academic or merit-based considerations.


UNC Chapel Hill Wake Forest University
Estimated Cost of Attendance

Tuition & Fees, Room & Board, Books & Supplies, Transportation, Personal Expenses.

$23,734 $71,616
Estimated Grant/Gift Aid $1,654 (Institution/State Grant) $54,516 (Need Based Scholarship)
Estimated Net Price $22,080 $17,200
Estimated Self-Help (student contribution) $6,900 $5,500
      Student Loans $4,200 $3,500
      Student Work $2,700 $2,000
Estimated Remaining Cost $15,180 $11,700

In this hypothetical scenario, which may or may not resemble any one individual’s situation, Bob and his family will be responsible to pay $3,480 more out of pocket and $700 more in student loans his freshman year to attend UNC Chapel-Hill, the public in-state university. Over 4 years, that is a $13,920 difference out-of-pocket, or in private or parent loans. This doesn’t even count the additional interest paid on the higher loans at UNC Chapel-Hill.

For Bob, it makes sense to go ahead and apply to both schools (and probably a few more), see where he is admitted and examine the financial package each school offers. The final packages will likely look a bit different as the calculator is only an estimate. However, it’s only then that  Bob and his family can make a sound college choice decision based on all of the college selection criteria. But by utilizing the Net Price Calculator, the family has some assurance that Wake Forest is competitive in total cost. It may end up being the best option for Bob both financially and academically.

While other families may get different results, this use case is not unusual. Here are some recommendations for families estimating the cost of a specific college or university.

  1. Utilize the Net Price Calculator on each college’s site. Simply searching for “Net Price Calculator” on the school’s website should get you there. Otherwise, check the financial aid page.
  2. Students may be eligible for merit aid in addition to financial aid at some colleges.  Investigate what the student may be eligible for and how to apply. Merit aid may be included in the net price calculator results for some colleges.
  3. If a student is considering applying to a college in Early Decision (which is a binding agreement) to one college, and cost is a concern, contact the financial aid department of that school to get validation of the net price calculator results. They may be able to give a closer estimate or range, particularly if the family finances are more complicated.
  4. Remember that the Net Price Calculator estimates are based on one year of attendance. Families will need to reapply for financial aid based on the appropriate tax year.



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