College is expensive.
The average cost for tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year private institution was $32,307 last year, according to the College Board, up about 6% from the previous term. Each full-time student at those schools received $9,300 in grants and tax benefits, on average, making the net cost about $23,000.
State schools are less expensive -- $13,589 for in-state students and $24,044 for out-of-state students at four-year schools -- but still a hard pill to swallow for those scrimping and saving to make ends meet. The average grants and tax benefits for each student in those institutions was $3,600.
College costs have been rising at nearly twice the rate of inflation each year for some time, and are projected to keep accelerating. Low-income families get more government aid, while athletes and super-smart overachievers rely on their talents for financial incentives.
Of course, the middle-class family with a B-student and a strained budget gets the short end of the stick.
O'Shaughnessy uses two examples of nearby schools to make a point about choosing the right college, based on financial circumstances and grade-point average.
Washington, D.C.-based Georgetown University is stingy with merit scholarships, but good about providing aid to needy students. On the other hand, George Washington University, located right nearby, "loves affluent kids," O'Shaughnessy says, and offers an average merit package of $23,000 per year.