Find Scholarships to Finance a Private College Education

Private schools have made a concerted effort to expand their financial aid packages.

The high cost of college education.
The high cost of college education.

Last week, The Scholarship Coach looked at scholarships and strategies for making public university education as affordable as possible. Next, we're looking at the other side of the public vs. private decision.

If you're dreaming of a private college education, there are ways you can pay for your degree without a massive student loan bill after graduation.

The conventional wisdom about private colleges is that they're small, selective and expensive. In terms of sticker price, there's a lot of truth to the cliche about cost.

[Follow these three strategies for managing high college costs.]

The College Board's most recent figures indicate that the average published price of a private four-year college is nearly $40,000 per year for undergraduates. This is an $8,000 increase over a decade ago and around $15,000 more than in the 1992-1993 school year.

While the total cost of attending a private school may have skyrocketed, that same chart also indicates something more surprising. The net price – how much a student pays after receiving financial aid from the college – is growing at a much slower pace.

Although the published sticker price of a private college's tuition and fees averages $29,000, the average tuition that students and their families have to pay is actually closer to $13,000.

Private schools are making a concerted effort to expand their financial aid packages and provide students as much help as possible in the form of grants, work-study funds and merit- and need-based scholarships. In fact, last year the nation's private colleges offered incoming freshmen their biggest-ever average discount of 45 percent off list prices, the Wall Street Journal reports.

[Get tips on how to find financial aid for college.]

Despite their higher prices, private colleges tend to offer more generous financial aid packages than public schools.

While public college finances are often subject to the whims of state budgets and government spending, private school financial aid is usually more stable and based on sizable long-term endowments. According to the Wall Street Journal, this means that even though less than 13 percent of U.S. undergraduates attend private colleges, those schools provide around 70 percent of total undergraduate grant dollars.

If you're heading to a private college, institutional aid can make a huge difference. Make sure you fill out your FAFSA thoroughly, accurately and quickly, and get in touch with financial aid advisors at your preferred school early in the process to find out exactly what you can expect based on your family's financial situation. If you're going into your junior year of high school this fall, it's not too early to start your research.

Even with grants and institutional scholarships at an all-time high, your private college education can still be a sizable investment. There are some private-school-specific scholarships you can turn to as well to help make up some of the difference.

Many private college scholarships are easiest to find at the state level. The Minnesota Private College Council, for example, is a coalition of 17 private liberal arts colleges.

[Turn to state higher education offices for scholarship assistance.]

In addition to their research and advocacy, the council and its donors fund a number of scholarships. Many of these scholarships are awarded directly by a school's financial aid office based on a student's need or merit criteria. Others, like the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation Scholarship, require a separate and more specific application.

Other states and cities offer similar assistance. New York's Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities has an array of scholarship options for residents and students.

The Say Yes Syracuse program offers additional aid to students from low-income families who attend the organization's private college partner institutions.

Resources and scholarships are also available through the Private Illinois Colleges and Universities coalition, which provides a pair of annual scholarships for community-college transfer students coming to a member school. In Iowa, sophomores and juniors at private colleges can apply for average awards of $7,600 through the Carver Scholars program.

Choosing between a public and private college is a big and highly personal decision and finances can and should be a part of it. But no matter which style of school feels right for you, it's a great investment in your future, and there's plenty of financial aid out there to help make it affordable.

Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.