You have probably heard the term “safety” countless times if you are in the midst of applying to college. We even have tons of articles on safeties here at The Prospect (such as this one and this one). But you might not have heard the term “financial safety” before, and it is a term worth knowing and understanding.
Essentially, a financial safety is a school that is not only a safety from the perspective of your chances of getting in, but it also a school that you are confident that you and your family can afford. When it comes down to it, there are essentially two types of financial safeties. First, there are financial safeties that are one because their total costs are low enough that even if you receive little to no aid, you/your family can afford the school. The other type are schools that you can’t afford without aid, but are confident that you will receive enough in merit or need based aid.
It is important to note that it is practically impossible to find financial safeties without discussing college costs with your family/guardian/anybody that will help to financially support you in college. It can be tough to understand, but you need to know your financial situation. Find out not only what they feel comfortable contributing to your education, but also whether or not they have factored in other costs like travel and books.
So first we will discusses safeties where the school is affordable without aid. A lot of people develop the habit of assuming their state school will meet this criteria, but this isn’t always the case. For example, my state school (Penn State)’s main campus’s tuition was over $16,000 last year, and that doesn’t even include room and board if you plan to live on campus (which tends to run around $10,000 a year). In general, public schools have a lower tuition than private schools but that doesn’t mean they will be affordable. Public schools with multiple campuses sometimes also have a different tuition depending on the campus. Finally, community colleges tend to be the cheapest of all of the options.
When you are looking at schools that are affordable without aid, it is easy to determine if they are a financial safety. Once you have established your financial limit you just need to compare that number to their cost and confirm it is equal or less than your limit. Depending on your financial safety, finding schools that you are sure you can afford out of pocket can be hard. This brings us to the second type of safety.
So the second type of financial safety is a school that you are confident that you can receive enough in aid for it to be affordable. This can be in need-based aid and/or merit scholarships. I want to take a moment to caution against having financial safeties from need-based aid. The issue with them is that need-based aid is often unpredictable and being dependent on online estimators can become problematic.
This means that merit scholarships financial safeties are the way to go if out-of-pocket safeties aren’t an option for you. When looking for these schools you want to look for schools where your numbers (GPA, SAT/ACT, class rank and so on) are significantly higher than a typical applicant. You also want to look at the criteria for receiving merit scholarships. Are they automatically awarded if your numbers are high enough? Do you have to be nominated by admissions? Do you have to submit an application yourself? Your best bet is ones that automatically award the money based on numbers but ones where you have to apply often give more money.
To summarize, a financial safety is a safety school that you know you can afford. It can be intimidating to try to find them but they are important to have on your college list. They essentially ensure that money won’t be a barrier to your higher education.