In a time when pennies are still being pinched and education costs are high, many wonder how they are going to afford college. The good news is, several schools recognize this great concern, and they are responding with plans to help you. New college financial aid programs are being developed to assist students and their families afford education at particular universities. Two "big buck" schools take center stage as the most recent examples: University of California, Berkeley and Harvard College.

UC Berkeley Financial Aid

Just weeks ago, this major university announced a "groundbreaking middle-class financial plan." The new program aims to make it easier for middle class families whose income ranges from $80,000 to $140,000 annually to afford an undergraduate education at Berkeley. A major advantage that this sets in place is that the maximum amount parents will contribute to total school costs (tuition, room & board, etc.) is 15% of their yearly earnings.

The Berkeley MCAP (Middle Class Action Plan), as it is known, is the first public university initiative to extend financial aid, and is a response to California's cost of living and recent tuition increases. University Chancellor Robert Birgeneau notes that, "We see early signs that middle-income families who cannot access existing assistance programs are straining to meet college costs...This plan is part of our commitment to ensuring that financial challenges do not prevent qualified students from attending one of the preeminent public universities in the nation."

The new program is set to begin in the 2012-2013 academic year and will assist domestic undergrads in the established income range (approximately 6,000 of 26,000 students). The Berkeley MCAP financial aid program will be most beneficial to California residents, however out-of-state students will be eligible for some benefits (not including out-of-state tuition). As of yet, international students are not included. Given current yearly costs of $32,634 for California students (and even more for out-of-state), the new initiative will be a major advantage.

Harvard College Financial Aid

In a similar effort, Harvard announced this fall that financial aid for lower income families would increase in 2012-2013. The school is upping it's financial aid funding by $10 million, bringing Harvard financial aid assistance to a whopping $166 million in need-based scholarships for undergrads. In the next school year, the college plans to raise the income level that qualifies parents to make zero monetary contribution.

As an added help, Harvard set up its own net price calculator online, which allows families to enter their personal financial data in order to estimate the amount they may be expected to pay per year for college.

“Access and affordability, enabled by generous financial aid, are fundamental to Harvard’s identity and excellence,” notes Harvard President Drew Faust. Previously, the family income for zero-cost was $60,000 and below. In fall of 2012 this number climbs to $65,000 and below. Using the aforementioned price calculator, students are expected to find that families income ranges $65,000 to $150,000 will pay 0-10 percent of family income for education at Harvard, while those in higher income brackets will pay just over 10 percent.

These are just a few examples of what individual schools are doing to make new college financial aid programs. Schools, as well as the government, are consistently working to make higher education more affordable for this generation of students. Don't be afraid to ask your university about financial aid offerings and new initiatives.

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