How to Afford a College Education for Your Daughter

Posted By Marilyn Hammond - 10/10/2013

If you're a parent with a college-bound daughter, I know you're thinking about the cost of her education. On one hand, you're so proud of her; on the other, you're wondering what kind of education you can really afford. You know she deserves a high-quality education, but you are quickly realizing that not all colleges are created equal. You question whether quality and affordability are even possible.

Let me offer an option that offers real value and advantage, and where quality and affordability are both assured: a college for women.

Thanks to a generous financial aid package, I experienced the quality and advantages of women's colleges firsthand. Although this was many years ago, women's colleges still offer outstanding financial aid packages that make a superior college education accessible.

I'll begin by sharing with you the feedback I received from first-year students of various women's colleges: Mount St. Mary's College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Stephens College, and Sweet Briar College. They all said that they were very happy with their financial packages, and most reported that their financial aid packages were much better than those offered by coed colleges.

Here's what a recent graduate of Smith College, Luvana Chowdhury '13 and a Fulbright Scholar said about her financial aid package: "I came to Smith because of the generous grants I received, including an AEMES (Achieving Excellence in Mathematics, Engineering and Sciences) merit-based scholarship. Without this aid to me and my family, I would not have been able to choose Smith."

I spoke with representatives from several women's institutions, including Columbia College, Hollins University, Mount Holyoke College, St. Catherine University, Scripps College, Smith College, Ursuline College, Wellesley College, and Wesleyan College, and they all agree. These institutions, as well as most other women's colleges, are doing everything they can to attract qualified students, and that also includes providing exceptional financial aid packages, which may include full four-year scholarships.

Audrey Smith, Vice President for Enrollment at Smith College, said:

Smith pledges to meet the full financial need of all its students, in essence charging each student only what she and her family can reasonably afford. ... Smith is the most economically diverse top-ranked liberal arts college in the nation. Smith has the highest percentage of recipients of Pell Grants -- grants awarded to the neediest families.

Mount Holyoke College recently added a new achievement-based scholarship (21st Century Scholars Program) to their existing scholarship programs. This program is for accomplished young women regardless of financial need. What I like about this scholarship is that all first-year applicants are considered. The recipient is awarded a $25,000 scholarship that is renewable for four years, as well as funding for an internship.

When Wellesley College recently launched a new tool, Wellesley's Quick College Cost Estimator, for estimating college costs I asked my friends Anne, Carol, and Carolyn who have college-age children to see whether they could afford Wellesley's $57,000. With such a high sticker price, they were reluctant; but after a bit of coaxing, they agreed to try the tool. Without providing any identifying information, all three answered the six financial questions and were pleasantly surprised at the level of need-based financial aid they might receive. Plus, all my friends noted how easy the tool was to use.

Anne's child is a first-year student in a private college (sticker price, $49,000, and net price, $35,000); her net price at Wellesley was projected at $28,000 -- savings of $7,000. Carol's child also is a first-year student at a public college as an out-of-state student; the sticker and net price of the public college is $30,000. The projected net for Wellesley is $30,000; the amount of possible financial aid makes attending Wellesley a real option. My friend Carolyn's child is an in-state student at a public college. Although her sticker and net price is $21,000, her child will not graduate in four years.

Carolyn says:

I wish I had investigated women's colleges more fully. While my daughter decided on an in-state public college with almost no financial aid, it looks like we would have qualified for financial aid at this women's college, making it more financially attractive, and it would be a better fit. Even though my daughter was a bright high school student, she had a "slow start" at college; she changed majors several times and the college provided little-to-no career direction, which would have been helpful. Seeing her struggling is hard; and now it will take her six years to earn her bachelor's degree, adding to the total expense. Even more importantly, she is less excited about pursuing a master's degree. She was so much more hopeful before she went to college.

Two other women's colleges that provide cost comparison information online are Hollins University and Columbia College. Hollins offers a compelling "affordability worksheet" that compares net college costs of Hollins (with a sticker price of $41,000) to public colleges (in- and out-of-state). The worksheet reveals that with the financial aid available at Hollins, it's less expensive to attend Hollins University than a public college. Columbia compares financial aid awards to several first-year students based on various information including test scores, family size and income; this comparison makes it easy to see how you can afford Columbia College as well.

I hope by now, you agree, that women's colleges are affordable. But, just as important are the value and advantage your daughter receives at a women's college.

Women's colleges are where young women thrive. The environment found at a women's college is unique; it's where dreams are encouraged and realized. At the same time, it provides guidance, support, and space to grow. Women's colleges offer more leadership roles on campus; and young women who attend a women's college receive the attention they deserve, inside and outside the classroom. Women's colleges prepare their students for life after college, whether they are pursuing an advanced degree or launching a career. The most notable reason women attend a women's college is that graduates of women's colleges achieve higher rates of success than their female counterparts at coed institutions.

To learn more about the advantages and value of women's colleges, check out my earlier posts on The Huffington Post or my personal blog, Advantages of a Women's College. On my blog, you'll also find a comprehensive listing of women's college in the United States.

Women's colleges have a long history of providing generous financial aid packages, which means your daughter can receive a quality college education that's also affordable. Once you've identified the women's colleges that are strong fits for your daughter, I encourage you and your daughter to talk with admissions counselors to learn about the colleges as well as available financial aid packages.

Diane Propsner
Huffington Post
October 10, 2013