Armchair Millionaire Community Bulletin: Getting the Best College Buy

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There are many factors to consider when choosing a college, including location, size, academic strengths and reputation and campus environment. But cost is always going to be near or at the top of the list, especially for parents. Be sure you're getting the biggest bang for your college buck.

New York, New York - As parents of college kids know all too well, college isn't cheap these days, and is becoming less affordable every year. A study just released by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 36 states received an "F" in college affordability and another 11 a "D."

When we asked the Armchair Millionaire community about the best buys for college, responses ran the gamut of possibilities. Here are some examples:

"A state college is the best education for the money. For a lot less money, I got a very marketable degree and a job out of college." --Sunny W.

"I attended a small private university for my undergraduate degree and an Ivy League university for my graduate degree. Was it worth it? Heck, yes! The amount of money I earn now (and will continue to earn in the future) far outweighs what I paid for tuition." --CP

"I went to a four-year private school for all four years. If I could do it again I would go to community college the first two years and save about $40,000." --Derrick

"With the advent of the certificate and other vocational degrees that credentialize your skills in two years or less, the need for a university degree is not as important as it was." --George at 26

Of course, there are many factors to consider when choosing a college, including location, size, academic strengths and reputation, campus environment and more. But cost is always going to be near or at the top of the list, especially for parents. My checklist provides you with what you should do to make sure you get the best buy.

The Armchair Millionaire's Guide to Getting the Biggest Bang for Your Tuition Buck

Consider opportunity cost. According to the Census Bureau, over an adult's working life, associate's degree holders earn an average of $1.6 million, while those with bachelor's degrees earn $2.1 million. That additional half a million bucks dwarfs the cost of college.

Consider time to graduate. Generally speaking, public colleges tend to take longer to graduate their students (five or six years, rather than four) than private schools. That extra year or two of college expenses could wipe out the overall savings of attending a public school.

Look beyond the tuition. Tuition is always the figure that catches your eye when evaluating different schools, but don't stop there when evaluating costs. Fees, room and board and transportation costs can all vary considerably between schools.

Dig deep into the financial aid offerings. There are drastic differences in the abilities of different schools to offer financial assistance to its students. A private school with a big endowment and an excellent financial aid program could easily end up being cheaper than a state school. The only way to find out is to ask: What is the average size of financial aid packages offered every year? Are there any special grants or scholarships that your child would qualify for?

Find a scholarship. Scholarships are generally reserved for students with special qualifications (like academic, athletic or artistic talent), who are interested in particular studies or who demonstrate financial need. They are not often awarded out of the blue, so it pays to seek them out. Scholarship reference books (found at your local library or from your child's high school counselor) are a good place to start. There are also a number of searchable online databases. Pass up on search services that charge a fee to locate scholarships--they won't turn up anything that you can't find yourself.

THE BOTTOM LINE: At the end of the day, there is no "best" school. Instead, students need a school where they will be comfortable and thrive. Part of that is knowing that you're getting an education that's worth what you're paying.

THE ARMCHAIR MILLIONAIRE WEEKLY SURVEY: Are you your own financial planner? Log on to and let us know.


Lewis Schiff founded the Armchair Millionaire Web site in 1997. His first book, The Armchair Millionaire, was published in 2001. Schiff's newest report, "How to Know When You Are Rich," is now available at


Lewis Schiff

Armchair Millionaire


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