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College Planning

The heartbreak of achievement

Q. I’m a senior in high school and I’ve been accepted to U.C. Berkeley this fall. My parents don’t know how we’re going to pay for college. I didn’t get any scholarships. Is there any chance Cal will give us a break?

A. Sadly, many families find themselves in this situation. Every spring we receive distress calls from families that are heartbroken rather than excited about their child getting into a dream school.
The students have done everything they were told to do. They took all the right courses, they earned the grades, they got impressive test scores, they spent part of their summer working on college applications and writing essays, they visited colleges (but not the financial aid department), they prepared their list of six to ten schools (including “reach” schools like Cal), and they submitted their applications well before the deadlines.

And then comes the good news: They’re accepted into their dream school. But the bad news comes a week or two later when they receive their financial aid “award” — often in March, less than two months before their commitment to the school, just five months before they are to leave for college. The award consists of two loans – an unsubsidized Stafford loan (for $3,500) and a PLUS loan——


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