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"Better Off After College" -- Book Review

Big thanks to Sabrina Manville and Nick Ducoff of Edmit for their succinct overview of paying for college in their book, Better Off After College: A Guide to Paying For College With More Aid And Less Debt.

This book is perfect for parents and students embarking on the heavy question of how to afford college.

My favorite aspect of the book is how it is organized. Manville and Ducoff start with the basics of college pricing in the chapter called "The Big Picture." From there, each subsequent chapter is a timeline of what families should know and do from pre-high school all the way through college. This flow allows families to jump into the book at whichever point they need the support and determine the steps necessary to pay for college.

This book is truly bursting with useful information. Here are some of the key points that hit home for me:

  • While the published price of college has gone up dramatically over the years, the net price (as in the price paid after discounts and financial aid) has remained about the same over the same timeframe.

  • The word "financial aid" continues to mislead families as loans are usually offered as part of the aid package.

  • Parents and students alike should understand the R.O.I., or return on investment, for the money they spend on college. It's rarely a good idea to take on tremendous debt even if the brand name university is the dream school.

  • When taking on loans, a good guideline is to take no more in loans than the student would earn in income in their first year out of college.

  • There are a variety of ways to manage college costs including choosing an affordable school, making sure the student graduates in four years, taking out manageable loans and appealing financial aid awards.

In all, this book is a straightforward take on what is an increasingly complex decision.

Perhaps my only criticism of this book are the anecdotes. Sprinkled into the factual and helpful information are vignettes of student and family situations. However, many of these stories lack deeper context and raise more questions than answers. I understand the goal was likely to demonstrate a concept with a real world story, but the stories are too limiting and leave the reader (or at least me) wanting to dig deeper to understand more.

That said, this is a great guide for anyone seeking greater understanding of the finances of college. Students, parents, teachers and counselors will all benefit from reading this, keeping it on your bookshelf and dog-earing key parts for future use.

Edmit is doing tremendous work in the college affordability space. I am grateful they have produced this book and I love the detailed information they have about colleges on their website:

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