Strategies for Creating an Affordable College List

College applications aren’t much fun. It’s tempting to only apply to a few schools, but that may be risky.

Students don’t get to see which schools offer the best combination of academics, scholarship money, and low-cost loans until after they get accepted. Your goal should be to apply to enough schools so that you’re accepted to some that you like and can afford.

If you only apply to a few schools, and none offer the financial help you need, it may be too late to apply to more for your preferred entry date.

The best way to avoid this is to diversify your list. These strategies and videos will get you started.

How many schools should you apply to?


How To Create an Affordable College List

Nancy Goodman, founder of College Money Matters, a nonprofit website focused on making financially savvy college decisions, suggests that students should apply to a mix of schools, including one or more of the following:

  • A college that’s a good fit both academically and financially. State or local colleges are good options here but don’t overlook private schools that are generous with financial aid.
  • A college that’s a safe bet for you academically, meaning the school typically admits students with your grades, test scores, and interests. Even better, your academic record and interests stand out among their applicants. Colleges that are excited about you are more likely to give you substantial amounts of financial aid.
  • A true financial safety school, one that you and your family know you can afford.


Consider Community Colleges

Families seeking an affordable education might want to consider starting at a two-year community college. These schools can offer a good education at a fraction of the cost.

You can get an associate degree in two years. And students working toward a bachelor’s degree can transfer to a four-year school at any time, bringing down the total cost of their education by a lot.

Community College could be a smart move!


Think About What Makes You Shine

Colleges are competing for you! Most colleges want an interesting mix of students. If you stand out among other applicants, schools are likely to offer you the money you need to attend.

Think about what makes you different from others likely to apply to that school. Do you have special talents or interests? An under-represented heritage? A compelling personal story? Interesting community service? Higher grades?

However you stand out, make sure you convey this to the school through your essays, interviews, and correspondence with admissions officers.


Want to learn more about making your college dollars count? Our friends at the nonprofit College Money Matters have videos, advice, strategies, and more.