Local financial aid expert shares tips on bringing down the cost of college

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DENVER (KDVR) –  How to pay for college is a stressful topic for many parents. Kelly O’Connor, who founded College Money Academy, has three tips:

  1. Disregard the university’s cost of attendance. You will likely not pay that price and should not make decisions about where to apply based on that number.
  2. Sometimes the first financial aid offer made by the school is not the best offer they can make. You can research the average financial aid award at each university at collegedata.com.
  3. Families can appeal the financial aid offer and ask the school to reconsider awarding more grant money.

O’Connor says this system doesn’t work for every person or every school, but he says clients see an average of $12,000 in additional grant money when they follow this system.

“It comes down to having options. You don’t just go after one school and hope that it works,” he said. 

O’Connor suggests applying to six to 10 schools, and appealing if you know you are a good fit, and received less than an average award.

So, what do admissions officials say about this advice? University of Denver Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Director of Financial Aid John Gudvangen says he agrees in part.  He does not want families to get caught up on the sticker price. 

“If a family is only looking at the sticker price, they don’t actually know what it will cost them,” he said.

Tuition at DU is more than $50,000 a year. But Gudvangen says more than 80 percent of students receive grant aid, and the average award is more than $30,000. 

He suggests families use a school’s net price calculator or quick college cost estimator to get a sense of a financial award.

He says families are welcome to appeal a financial aid offer if there is new information or something needs to be reviewed, but he says DU makes the best offer they can for students from the start. Some grants are awarded for merit, others for need.

“We go out with our best offer,” Gudvangen said. “We’re not trying to make this a difficult process or play a game with people.”

O’Connor is offering a live webinar on his website on Saturday, Feb. 29 at noon.

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