Originally published August 8, 2012 at 11:30 a.m., updated August 8, 2012 at 2:01 p.m.
Guest: Lynn O'Shaughnessy, author of "The College Solution"
Age of oldest parent
Parent's marital status
Number of Students in College
Parents' adjusted gross income
Cash and savings
-The College Solution
When it comes to looking for a college, pretty much everything we think we know -- and quite a lot of what we do -- is wrong. So wrong that students end up paying far more than they have to and graduate nearly smothered in a swamp of debt.
San Diego education expert and author Lynn O'Shaughnessy has intensely studied the process of getting into college. In this era of steeply rising costs for public colleges and universities, O'Shaughnessy knows how to get the most bang for one's tuition dollar, where to get a lower-cost education on a par with a big-name, high-priced school, where the grants are and how to determine what a particular school will actually cost you.
Three O'Shaughnessy maxims stand out: a college's sticker price most often means nothing, only about one-third of students pay full fare, and state colleges are often more expensive than private colleges, particularly in California.
It stands to reason that families shouldn't start shopping for colleges until they know the price they will pay for those they consider. But what is the price? That's what their EFC, or Expected Family Contribution, will tell them. Each family gets its EFC number when it applies for financial aid. Then a family can look for the best schools that will be as generous as possible.
One way to begin to sift all this information is to use the College Board's BigFuture website. That site will inform parents of the number of students who were offered aid by a particular college; the number who had their full need met; the average financial aid package and the average indebtedness at graduation, among many other facts.