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Tipping the Scales: Choosing Between your Dream School and a Scholarship

Tipping the Scales: Choosing Between your Dream School and a Scholarship
5/21/2009
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by CampusCompare 5/21/2009

Every year, high school students across the country rip open the fat admissions envelope from their first-choice only to be thrown a curve ball. Their dream school may have let them in, but they got bubkiss, zero, and zilch in financial aid. Then, just when they thought they were out of luck, they get a hefty scholarship from one of their safeties. Now they are forced to decide between the school of their dreams, and the scholarship of their dreams.

Unfortunately, this is an all-too common scenario. Students often receive more aid from their safety schools than from their first choices. This is because they are generally overqualified, and thus more desirable, to the admissions committee at the less prestigious school. Admissions counselors aren’t foolish. Stats like class rank and SATs are reported by the school, and help make up their reputation. They want to boost their school’s stats by having students at the top of their high school class attend. To lure those top students, they often offer large merit scholarships and grants. And the first-choice schools? They are often much more competitive, so it can be hard to stand out from the crowd and win an award.

So what can you do if you’re stuck between your dream-school and being debt-free? Is it better to attend your 2nd (or 3rd) choice school and not have to take out loans, or to hold out for your no. 1? There’s really no one answer. In general, it’s wise to not borrow more money than you will be making your first-year out of college—this means (for most people) no more than 30-40 thousand dollars for all four years of college. This can easily be done in low interest federal loans. If going to your dream school means taking out $100,000 in private loans, you’ll probably be better off going to a less prestigious school and staying out of debt. Try to compare costs of both colleges side-by-side to see if the difference in aid really tips the scales. Maybe after seeing what both schools have to offer, you’ll decide second-best is actually pretty good. Most colleges offer a good education, and even if it’s not their first choice, most students grow to love their school once they’ve moved in and made friends.

Don’t give up just yet. If you really believe that you’ll be better off at your dream-school, you can make it happen. Try and make up for the lack of financial aid with some private scholarships. Search for corporations, non-profits, and local scholarships designed for students like you. Even if it’s just $500 here and there, in the end it will all add up to the difference between going to your 1st choice and settling for second-best.

CampusCompare is a free website that helps college-bound students find the right school for them by offering free college search tools, like the Financial Aid Calculator, information on 15 categories of college life for over 3,000 colleges, and expert, hype-free college admissions advice.  Check us out at http://www.campuscompare.com

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