Laura - Boston College - Class of 2027

"Try to negotiate with colleges for more aid. You might hear 'no' from some schools, but others may work with you."
  • Hometown: New York, NY
  • High School GPA: 4.5/5.0 (weighted)
  • SAT: 1260
  • Major: Nursing
  • Goals: Prepare for a career as a hospital nurse
  • Extracurriculars: MIT Beaver Works Summer Institute; Columbia University EPISTEMIC program; Icahn School of Medicine medical and scientific exploration program; 21 hours of job shadowing with doctors; Crafts for Humanity; League of Environmental and Animal Protection; Mental Health Association

I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was a child, and before I applied to college, I researched many different nursing programs. I wanted a program that would best prepare me to be a nurse in a hospital and that offered the most hands-on clinical experience. I also wanted an academic program that would let me study other subjects besides nursing.

Cost was also important because my parents were unable to contribute to my college education. But with a 5.0 GPA and a zero Expected Family Contribution (now called the Student Aid Index), I figured colleges would give me enough financial aid to cover all of my costs. I learned this isn’t always the case.

One disappointing financial aid offer after another

I was admitted to several schools with great nursing programs, but their financial aid offers were disappointing. Some private schools, such as St. John’s University and Hofstra University, gave me some financial aid, but not enough. At a few of these colleges, I would still have to pay about $15,000 per year even after financial aid.

I expected SUNY Binghamton, a public state college that I loved, to be affordable given that I was an in-state resident and qualified for federal and state grants. But even with this financial aid, I would still need to pay about $14,000 per year.

I called Binghamton to ask for more financial aid and explained that it was one of my top choices. The person I spoke with said that there was a limited amount of financial aid available, and I couldn’t get more money. She said my only option was to take out an unsubsidized federal student loan, but this was something I wasn’t comfortable with. When she said, “I think you should consider other schools,” I knew the call was over.

It comes down to Boston College and Hunter College

I had also been admitted to Hunter College—a public school with affordable tuition. The need-based federal and state grants that I qualified for would cover all of my costs at Hunter. Hunter’s nursing program was very good, but competitive, accepting only 100 students a year, and there was no guarantee I would ever be admitted into its nursing program. I couldn’t even apply to it until my sophomore year after taking two semesters of prerequisites.

Boston College, a private school, had given me a large financial aid package – but I still would need to pay over $8,000 a year to attend. This was less than I would pay at the other private colleges I applied to, but it was still money I did not have. On the other hand, BC offered everything I was looking for: early clinical experience, a flexible curriculum that would allow me to study subjects outside of nursing, the opportunity to work at renown hospitals in Boston, plus the opportunity to study abroad. I really wanted to go to BC, but it seemed impossible without taking on more debt than I wanted to.

Good advice from my counselor

I decided to go to my high school counselor for advice, and I’m glad I did. She broke down the different parts of BC’s financial aid offer, such as the loans I would have to pay back, how the work-study works, and when I would receive the money. She also explained the other expenses I would have to pay for that were not always listed on the college bill, such as insurance, textbooks, and first-year fees. 

My counselor suggested that I contact BC to explain that I couldn’t afford these additional expenses—including the health insurance which was about $4,000. I was nervous about trying to negotiate because I had already heard “no” from Binghamton. 

But when I called, the person I spoke with was understanding. She quickly told me that she would happily work with me to make sure I could afford Boston College! She offered to waive the health insurance fee, bringing my annual costs down to about $5,000. I felt confident that I could cover that amount by working over the summer. She even said that BC would try to give me more aid later in the summer to help me cover my fall tuition payment.

After the call, I felt so relieved! I knew choosing BC was the right decision, and one I would not regret.

What I learned

  • A high GPA is no guarantee that you’ll receive merit scholarships. Most of my scholarships were based on my Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), not my GPA.
  • Colleges have different financial aid policies. I learned that a low Expected Family Contribution (now called the Student Aid Index, or SAI) doesn’t mean you’ll get enough scholarships and loans to pay for all of your college costs. Even though my EFC was zero, many colleges still charged me a lot of money, especially some in-state public colleges.
  • Research and understand merit scholarships. Merit scholarships at some colleges require a separate application or have other eligibility requirements such as being part of an honors college. It’s important to read the fine print so you don’t miss out on these opportunities. 

The Money Factor

I am paying for college with need-based scholarships (80%), grants (12%), a subsidized loan (3%), work-study (3%) and working summers (2%).

My advice

  • Before you apply to colleges, use a net price calculator to check your net price (the price you might pay after financial aid has been factored in). I applied to many expensive private schools without looking too much into the financial aid aspect. I should have researched each school’s financial aid policies and checked net price calculators to understand how much financial aid I might actually receive.
  • Learn as much as you can about financial aid. I had heard about net price calculators from my brothers in college and of terms like “percent of need met,” but I didn’t look at these things closely or understand that colleges meet different percentages of students’ financial need. 
  • Try to negotiate with colleges for more aid. You might hear “no” from some schools, but others may work with you.
  • Thoroughly research the academic programs at the schools you’re applying to. Look into the classes and anything that interests you such as doing research or studying abroad. This will help you compare your college choices when it’s time to make your decision. 

How CollegeData helped me on my road to college

One of the tools I found the most helpful was CollegeData’s College Search because I could select specific school traits I was looking for, such as location, school size, and diversity.

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