Paying For College: The Higher Education Act & the 10 Most Expensive Colleges

There is a lot of buzz about the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act. Paying for college is becoming increasingly more expensive and many students are spending an extra years worth of tuition because they can’t even get into the classes they need to graduate let alone the classes that they actually want to take. The major proposed change is the streamlining of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) paper work to make it easier to read and understand. 108 questions could be reduced to only 2 questions. Take a look at the current forms here:


The new FAST Act (Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act) asks families about the size of their household as well as income from 2 years earlier. This could potentially provide families with earlier decisions and an ability to start college straight out of high school.

Advocates for the FAST Act feel that the very large amount of paperwork is preventing students from getting through all the questions in a timely manner and may even stop some students from applying to college altogether. The new plan would also simplify the repayment options to potentially make it simpler to make payments after college.

According to, many colleges, however, don’t like the idea of reducing the FAFSA to only 2 questions. With so many students applying for scholarships and financial aid, colleges want to have larger amounts of information to help them make decisions regarding students.

In general, FAFSA seems to have been getting a lot of bad press. Many feel that it is a great idea that has gone wrong due to over regulation (or under regulation, depending on whom you ask).


With so many families and students looking for financial aid through FAFSA, as well as college-based grants and scholarships, I am curious to know which colleges are really a good deal and which ones have tuition so high that students may find themselves repaying loans well into their 30’s and 40’s. And to be fair, who wants to be paying back a college loan when they have 2 kids to feed and a mortgage to pay?

These colleges are going to cost ya

According to CNN Money, these top 10 will be emptying your pockets for years to come:

1. Sarah Lawrence (NY) $48,000 +

2. Harvey Mudd (CA) $46,000+

3. New York University (NY) $44,000+

4. Columbia University (NY) $49,000+ (total costs lower than top 3)

5. Dartmouth College (NH) $46,000+

6. Wesleyan University (CT) $47,000+ (total costs lower than top 5)

7. University of Chicago (IL) $46,000+

8. Claremont McKenna (CA) $45,000+

9. Bard College (NY) $46,000+ (total costs lower than top 8)

10. Trinity College (CT) $47,000+ (total costs lower than top 9)

California: great schools & high costs

It is not lost on me that many of these colleges are located in New York or California. For those of you that live in California, you have probably noticed that our state boasts a more desirable quality of public education than many states but that doesn’t save California families from paying the high cost of post-secondary education.

According to The University of California’s website, residents of California hoping to attend the University of California should expect to pay $13,200 (not including room & board and personal expenses). This is much lower than the top 10 list but still a pretty penny, especially when you multiply the cost times 4. The cost of tuition and fees are the same regardless of the campus attended.

Non-residents should expect to pay $36,078 for tuition and fees. Further, California residents hoping to attend California State University should expect to pay anywhere from $5,900-$8,500 base tuition and fees per year. This is a much more reasonable cost.

Either way you look at it and whichever college you or your child is applying to, the help that FAFSA provides can be a make it or break it for many families and students that can’t afford the full cost of tuition. Personally, I’m waiting to hear from students who use the FAST Act in future years if it is really more user friendly than the current FAFSA plan.

While you’re thinking about how to pay for college, don’t forget how valuable a scholarship can be. SAT and ACT scores, GPA and a personal essay can also be a make it or break it situation for college acceptance and attendance. (READ: “5 Things to do Before You Go to College“)

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