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How I’m Paying for College: University of Illinois Student Ishan Patel

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Thanks to an older sister, Ishan Patel got a sneak preview of the college application and financial aid process.


"A lot of the college visits that she went on, I went on, too," recalled the University of Illinois freshman. “I remember a lot of talk about the FAFSA. As much as they talk about it, you don't really understand what it is. Even with all the information, it's still kind of confusing.”


Ishan said this financial aid information overload was most obvious as he watched his sister apply for scholarships. Outside of school-specific scholarships, the funding options were difficult to find. Additionally, the decentralized nature of the search made it tricky to discern which merit-based aid options were best for her--and which weren’t worth applying to.


“I know that she applied for a lot more than I did--she still didn't get any [scholarships],” he said.

Ishan found the college financial aid process fascinating, and even helped his sister fill out her FAFSA. He had also already seen his family’s taxes before, so the family’s financial situation wasn’t a surprise. “My parents have always been pretty open with that type of thing with me.”


When it was his turn to go through the financial aid process, Ishan did a lot of research with net price calculators to rule out schools. “If there was a school that I might've been interested in, but it would end up being 50K... it's not really worth applying,” he said. But his initial net price calculations just provided a preliminary winnowing of options.


“A big factor in my decisions was more the quality of academics versus the financial aspect of it,” Ishan said. And of course, his sister’s start at the University of Illinois also influenced his search.

"I was obviously considering that [school] more after she got in,” he said.


The bang-for-your-buck comparisons Ishan made included college rankings, job placements and salaries, and the power of the college's name after graduation. "Is a school that's very expensive but very good better than going to school that's cheaper but you're still going to get a decent education?"


Ishan said University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign passed his tests in part because of the highly ranked computer science program (and despite the in-state cost of more than $30,000).

“For it being so highly ranked, I felt like it was worth it," he said.


Ishan said he's lucky to have parents who didn't pressure him to choose a school only on cost--and who are currently footing the bill. “They never pressured me to go to a specific school because of the price, but I know they've always been thinking about it,” he said.


"As of right now, I don't see myself having loans, but I don't know if I want to let them pay for it over four years.... especially considering how expensive it is," he said. "Obviously, I don't want to be a burden on them in that way."


At the moment, Ishan isn’t working.


“I have mixed feelings towards it. Obviously, I think education's supposed to be my number-one priority, but a summer job would be beneficial as well,” he said. “I'm definitely considering an internship this upcoming summer.”


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