Managing tuition without a money tree


With private four year undergraduate tuition averaging nearly $50,000 per year for some schools in the U.S., a college degree comes at a high cost. Students discuss ways to offset the daunting price tag.

$46,950. According to Statista, this is the average price to attend a non-profit four year private university in the U.S. per year. For most ASL students, this price is expected – the natural progression after their high school education. However, for some, this price tag presents a more complicated situation, and one in which various financial plans will dictate the next four years. 

Reserve Officer Training Corps

It was always clear for Brodie Craig (’18) that finances would play a role in his college choices. “I knew for the more competitive schools I was looking at, even if I was able to get into them, it was likely that I wasn’t going to get enough financial aid to attend them,” he said. 

As a result, Brodie decided to pursue a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. Brodie spent the majority of the summer between Grade 11 and Grade 12 filling out the application, which required information similar to the Common Application, in addition to writing three essays and completing an interview. “I decided to pursue [ROTC] to give myself more options and also because it was an interest of mine,” he said. 

After applying for Navy and Army scholarships, Brodie was awarded an Army and Navy scholarship to Duke University, where he will attend in the fall. Brodie is committed to serve upon graduation, in return for free tuition for all four years.

The application process

Director of College Counselling and Academic Advising Anne Richardson explained that for a student who needs financial aid, there are many options available. However, this process is dependent on a student’s citizenship, as there is more financial aid available in the U.S. for citizens. “If you are a U.S. citizen or green card holder vs. a non U.S. citizen, those are completely different processes,” she said.

For U.S. citizens, the first step is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA requires an application that asks a student to input all institutions to which they are applying, before supplying the student with an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).  The EFC indicates how much a family is able to contribute towards tutition. Richardson explained if a family was given an EFC of $0, then that student would require a full scholarship to university.

Once the FAFSA is completed and the applicant is provided with their EFC, Richardson said that is when a student and their family can begin to look at different schools and options for financial aid. 

For Richardson, financial aid options break down into a few paths: the first being applying to need–blind schools where all need will be met without question. Other options to offset tuition cost include work studies, where students work on campus, as well as various loan options. Richardson explained that loans can come in various forms, whether it be federal student loans, private student loans or parent loans.

However, Richardson also encourages students who require financial aid to apply to schools where the student can qualify for merit scholarships. “That often is a new concept to parents in part because we are looking at schools that may not usually be in the usual ASL list of schools,” she said. But if you are in the top end of the pool you are likely to qualify for things like presidential scholarships…so your [financial aid] package can be a little bit better.” 

For Brodie, looking at “financial safeties” where he would get scholarships was essential prior to receiving his ROTC scholarship. “My parents and my college counselor talked to me a lot about not only having safety schools that were going to be easier for me to get into, but financial safeties that would hopefully give my family enough merit aid on top of normal financial aid to entice me to [attend that university],” he said. 


Another option Richardson highlighted was in-state schools, where loans are not included as a part of the financial aid package, and the tuition at public schools within that state is significantly less for state residents. 

For Helen Craig (’18), an in-state school proved to be the most cost effective, and she will attend the University of Maryland next year where she has residency. “I looked in state for Maryland because it made sense. It had the programs I wanted,” she said. “In-state is $20,000 and with FAFSA it is going to be $18,000. That was a no brainer.”


However, before settling on Maryland, Helen also considered schools in Canada, where she also holds citizenship. According to Statista, in Canada the average cost for an undergraduate degree, not including room and board and other school fees, is averaged at 6,571 Canadian dollars per year. 

Similarly to Helen, Monet Streit (’19) has decided to only apply to schools in Canada, where she is from, despite encouragement to consider U.S. schools. “For me, it is home and America doesn’t have anything that is way better than Canada,” she said. 

Aside from returning home, applying to only Canadian schools also provides financial incentive for Streit as she holds Canadian citizenship. “If you are citizen it is more affordable and there are a bunch of financial aid opportunities,” she said.


For Karthik Balasubramanian (’18), applying to both universities in the U.K. and U.S. highlighted the discrepancies in cost between the two. “For the U.K. in general it is cheaper overall. You apply and in total it costs £24 [to apply to] five schools, versus the U.S. where you have to pay a set fee to every school. In the U.S. I spent $1,000 applying for schools,” he said.

Although finances weren’t a main factor in his college decision process, Balasubramanian recognizes the ability to study a specialized subject in the U.K. for a lesser price in only three years. “Finances wasn’t a big concern, but to me I am saving money, I am more focused on a subject I like, I’m saving time if I stay here,” he said. 

As Balasubramanian is an Indian citizen, he applied to his U.K. schools as an international student, meaning he would have to pay increased tuition. However, even with his increased price in the U.K. the overall cost of education is substantially less than a Bachelor’s degree in the U.S. “In the U.S. on average you are spending $50,000-$60,000, depending on the school you go to. Over here, I am an international so I pay three times the amount of what a U.K. citizen pays and it is about £18,000,” he said.

By staying in the U.K., Balasubramanian hopes to apply for his British citizenship, which he sees as another advantage to remaining here. “There are a bunch of other benefits other than just financially, for example you can get a passport here,” he said. 

Additionally, Balasubramanian highlighted the number of years required in school for U.K. universities versus U.S. In the U.K., students are able to receive a Bachelor’s degree in three years, and a Master’s degree in four years, whereas in the U.S., a Bachelor’s typically is awarded after four years, and a Master’s after six. “Best case scenario, if I stay in London, I am saving two years, I am already paying less than an average school and my parents calculated that two years of fees in the U.S. would equate to my masters here,” he said. 

Defeating the stigma

Throughout the process of applying for a ROTC scholarship, Brodie knew this was not a typical college process for ASL students. “It is something that ASL doesn’t have to deal with as much as some other schools do. I may have had a unique case because I know not a lot of kids pursue ROTC and not a lot of kids are in the situation that I was in,” he said. 

Helen believes there are many assumptions amongst peers regarding the college process, due to the prestigious nature of ASL. “I am sure some people will question why I am going to Maryland,” she said. 

Helen also explained how in her process she had to consider other factors many students wouldn’t think about such as transportation required to visit family. “I can’t be that far away from home. Because some schools are so far away, transport would be ridiculously expensive for the four years,” she said. 

To help relieve these assumptions and normalize the process of applying for financial aid, Richardson believes it is best handled individually with students and parents on a case-by-case basis. “It is definitely something we are conscious of, it’s definitely something we are talking about, but really within the walls of this office in order really to be sensitive to parents and to students,” she said.

The main point, however, that Richardson emphasizes to all students and parents is the necessity of having an honest conversation if a student is going to need financial aid. “Parents should not be hiding from their students that there are only certain schools that they can afford because that sets up a really problematic dynamic that can culminate in some real disappointments in about April of the senior year,” she said. 

For Helen, openly talking about financial aid also desensitizes the situation. “If you talk about it more then people won’t assume that people have the same amount of money,” she said. 

Similarly for Brodie, financial aid was not something he was shy about. “I always had in the back of my mind that I might get into some schools and not be able to go because of money, which people wouldn’t understand. At ASL they just assume if you get into a school you are going to be able to go,” he said.“It was just a reality for me that wasn’t a reality for other people and that was OK for me.”

Written by Editor-in-Chief: Print Michaela Towfighi

Artwork by Michaela Towfighi