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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Higher Education: Buyer Beware of High Pressure Sales Tactics of For Profit Universities

It's November, which means that high school seniors are preparing college applications, while their parents suffer sticker shock at the cost of education.
For most students, going to college means going into debt.
Wooing new students is an art form at college admissions offices. They'll ballyhoo their winning sports teams, plush dorms and swim-up juice bars at the student rec-plex. A practical-minded family will perform a cold calculation: What salary bang will we get for our educational buck? And will Posh U. leave me in hock until my hair is gray?

If you're wrestling with the college decision, here are a few things to keep in mind:
• The 'sticker price" — published tuition — probably isn't what you'll have to pay. Two-thirds of students get grants or scholarships. Pricey schools give the biggest discounts and offer more breaks based on financial need. Cheaper state schools lean more toward academic merit in awarding scholarships.
If you have your heart set on Posh U., apply and see what you're offered. But apply at affordable state schools as well.
• Apply early for financial aid — kitties run dry. And always fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a task as pleasant as a mugging. It's required by most schools and needed for federal student loans.
• If you have to borrow, beware of "private" student loans. Federally backed Stafford loans generally offer lower rates and much easier terms in repayment. Parent Plus loans are the best option for parent borrowers.
"Only consider private loans as a very last resort," says Lauren Asher, president of the Project on Student Debt. "They are a risky form of private debt, and they are not even dischargeable in bankruptcy."

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