Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The True Cost of College

How can anyone afford even a year of college? Have you seen the sticker price of some schools?

I tell my kids to ignore the sticker price...for now. Cost is important when choosing a college, but looking at the sticker price isn't going to tell you the true cost of going to that school. You really won't know what the final cost will be until sometime between March and April prior to the fall that you plan to enter school. That's when schools send out their financial aid award letters.

Some Do's and Don'ts when applying to college:

1. Don't discount applying to a private college just because the sticker price is several times higher than a state school. All of my college-aged kids have applied to private colleges and were offered generous financial aid packages.
(Some were much more generous than others). Several of my kids have gone to private colleges and their debt load has been very similar to that of my kids who went to state schools. Many private colleges have large endowments which make it possible for them to offer generous scholarships to students.

2. Do apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as you can after January 1st. Be sure to apply every year your child is in college. Also, be sure you're visiting the ".gov" site. There are imposters that might ask you to pay. You should never pay for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid!

3. Don't wait until you've completed your taxes to file the FAFSA. You can estimate your taxes on FAFSA and file an amended FAFSA after your taxes have been filed, if necessary. The sooner you get your FAFSA submitted, the sooner your son or daughter can get in line for financial aid. You choose which schools will receive the FAFSA report, so be sure your child has applied to the schools to which  you're submitting the FAFSA. (This should have been done already, but if they still haven't applied, be sure they get their application in by the deadline. Each college may have a different deadline. Check with the college(s) you are interested in attending. You may also want to ask your college about their definition of an application deadline – whether it is the date they receive your FAFSA, or the date your FAFSA is processed.To see the federal aid deadlines for each state for school year 2012-2013, click here).

4. Don't assume that just because your income is in the six figure range you won't qualify for financial aid. Particularly if your student is applying to a private school, where tuition is often in the $40k to $50k range, you will likely qualify for some type of financial aid. It could be in the form of grants, federal loans (both subsidized and unsubsidized), or work study, or a combination of all of the above.

5. Do your research. Find out what scholarships and grants are offered by your top choice colleges. Most student aid comes in the form of institutional grants; therefore, you'll find more money for school when you attend those colleges that offer the best scholarships, grants and other financial incentives.

6. Do apply for outside scholarships once you've done all the above. You might have your heart set on a school that doesn't have much in the way of endowments or scholarships, but that shouldn't dissuade you. Use an internet search engine such as Fastweb, to help sort through the thousands of scholarships available. According to scholarship guru, Ben Kaplan, the harder it is to apply for the scholarship, the greater are your odds of winning. His book, "How to Go to College Almost for Free," has loads of practical tips for scholarship hunting.

7. Do contact the financial aid officer or the admissions officer at your top choice school to ask for more aid, if needed. Especially if you can show that school B has offered you more aid than they have offered you, they may be able to find more money to make their offer more competitive. Remember, the colleges you have applied to attend for four years stand to make a great deal of money from you. You need to be a wise and careful consumer and shop around. They want your business.

1 comment:

  1. Good advice!! And if your child is a music major and has just spent a huge amount on an instrument, let the fine aid office know. It matters, and they will take it into account when the estimate need. ;)