Parents of college-bound teens who are stressed about college costs would be well-served to spend a little time learning about financial aid. Here are five tips that, if you implement them, will give you clarity and confidence about your college plan.
1. Noodle around with the Net Price Calculators on the websites of each college under consideration. Although flawed, these calculators represent a good start, and a reminder that you may not have pay “sticker price” at each college.
2. Research financial aid generosity of each college. Two “go-to” resources are The College Board website, and the Common Data Set, a universal format that colleges report their data to the Department of Education.
3. Include colleges for STRATEGIC purposes, instead of merely selecting schools plastered on the rear windows of cars in your neighborhood. Many colleges compete with one another for good (B plus and higher) students, sometimes you can play off one college’s scholarship offer against another.
4. Pay attention to the graduation rates published by the schools. (See the Common Data Set, mentioned above.) The national four year graduation rate is less than 50%, meaning the odds are stacked against you if you’re hoping to get through school in four years. Why? At many state universities, it’s tough to get classes needed to fulfill graduation requirements. Many private colleges, on the other hand, boast four-year rates that are much higher.
5. Understand that, just because other parents, your guidance counselor, your accountant or other well-intentioned people told you that “you shouldn’t bother, you’ll never qualify,” etc., they really have little-to-no idea about your kids grades, extra-curricular involvement, your income, your savings, your mortgage balance, the types of colleges they’re looking at, and a host of other factors that bear on your eligibility for grants and scholarships.
Andrew Lockwood, J.D. is a “late stage” college finance consultant, author of the book, “How to Pay ‘Wholesale’ for College” and hosted the “College Planning Power Hour” on ESPN Radio in Ft. Lauderdale. He is conducing a series of college planning lectures this summer, covering financial aid tips and mistakes to avoid, the college applications and essays. More information is available at: CollegePlanningTips.com