By: Jenn Curtis – Guest Post
It seems that too often these days we are swamped with news about the rising cost of college and the shrinking ability of families to afford it. While both of these phenomena are a reality, you can be smart about selecting the right colleges based on your financial situation; you simply need to be proactive, and you must be willing to do some advance planning. This summer, I challenge all of you—parents and students—to start the financial conversation no matter where you are in the college-going process. The more discussion around the topic and the earlier the discussion takes place, the more everyone’s expectations are in check and the smoother the process will to go.
Here are some tips to help you ease into the financial conversation:
Talk about formulating your college list not based on name or location but rather on cost of attendance and potential for merit aid: When students and families become hyperfocused on selecting schools based on name while neglecting research into cost of attendance, they are doomed to choosing schools that—only after they receive the acceptance letter—they realize are cost prohibitive. Instead, try to first conceptualize the college list not as a litany of schools that your neighbor will be impressed with but instead as a delicate balance between the components you are looking for in a school coupled with your ability to pay for it. There are many schools that are known to be generous with aid…and there are ones that aren’t. Begin researching which schools tend to dole out a good amount of merit aid and steer clear of those schools that tend not to bend over backward when it comes to money.
Check out the FAFSA4caster: It is never too early to make use of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) FAFSA4caster, a tool that can estimate your eligibility for student aid from the government. After inputting your answers to several financial questions, this tool will help you to determine your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), an important number that approximates what you’ll be responsible for paying. As you travel forward along the college planning path, it is essential to keep your EFC in mind.
Together, learn how to use the net price calculators: It is now required of all schools that participate in the federal aid program to provide a net price calculator on their website. These calculators, which do vary in terms of their depth and even their accuracy, will nevertheless give you an idea of the net price (cost of attendance minus grants and scholarships) that you will be required to pay at a particular university. You might try to play around with the calculator to figure out how to get the best award. For instance, try manipulating the SAT or ACT scores to see if that changes the award and plan your testing strategy accordingly.
Jenn Curtis is the Director of College Counseling at FutureWise, a company she helped co-found. FutureWise is a college consulting firm that encourages and supports students to holistically prepare for college admissions – the same way they are judged by colleges.