The average tuition for one year of private college in the US has reached $23,712… the average state school tuition, $6,185. And tuitions at some schools greatly exceed these figures. But these are sticker prices. Many colleges are discounting tuition. The average private tuition discount is 33.5%, and the average public school discount is nearly 15%. Here’s how to increase the odds that you’ll get a discount…

  • Look for no-loan schools. If your family qualifies for need-based aid, check out schools that give out more need-based grants — which don’t have to be repaid — than loans. A growing number of the nation’s most selective schools no longer include loans in their financial-aid packages. Instead, they award grants to families who need them.
  • Examples of no-loan schools: Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, Davidson, Harvard, Haverford, Pomona, Princeton, Swarthmore, Williams and Yale.

    Find a list of schools with favorable financial-aid policies at the Web site of the Project on Student Debt (www.projectonstudentdebt.org, type “Financial Aid Pledges to Reduce Student Debt” into its search engine).

    To determine if you qualify for financial aid, use the on-line calculator at www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov. You’ll find more college-funding calculators at www.finaid.org, including an “Expected Family Contribution and Financial Aid Calculator.”

  • Look for merit dispensers. If your family is too affluent to qualify for need-based cash, look for schools that hand out lots of merit aid, which is given to promising students without regard to whether they need the money. A sampling of the schools in this category, along with their average annual renewable merit awards, includes Tulane University ($20,541), Rice University ($15,912), Pepperdine University ($19,673), Boston College ($17,224) and Case Western Reserve University ($19,497).
  • Lots of public institutions also are offering merit-based discounts. These include the University of Virginia, University of Florida, University of South Carolina and Miami University in Ohio.

  • Check on-line to find generous schools. To discover how much money an institution gives out, check the school’s profile on www.collegeboard.com by entering the name of the school in the search box. That will take you to the “College Quick Finder.” Under the college information, click on “Cost and Financial Aid.” There you’ll find statistics on financial aid and merit aid (non-need–based aid).
  • Another resource: Each school’s “Common Data Set” is a gold mine of statistics that includes information on need-based financial aid, merit aid, student retention, majors, freshman class profiles, gender breakdown and much more. Most schools post their Common Data Sets on their Web sites. To find the information, try a Google search for the name of the school and the phrase “Common Data Set.”

  • Skip the very selective schools. Students are more apt to receive financial help if they are among the top 25% to 30% of applicants to a particular school. You can compare SAT and grade-point averages by looking at college snapshots at www.collegeboard.com.
  • Play the gender card. At schools where females are in abundance, male applicants don’t always have to be as qualified to be accepted and/or may receive more financial aid — and vice versa.
  • Example: Technical and engineering schools may be more inclined to offer aid to women.