Everything a Parent Wants to Know About Financial Aid, but Was Too Overwhelmed to Ask
Since financial aid is such a tangled, complicated changeable mess (Congress changes it’s mind all the time) and I promised you that I am going to help you carve a bright, clear path through it, it is imperative that we take a moment right here, and I give you a thumbnail sketch about the key points I have made so far.
1. Since everybody is eligible for financial aid today, you want to find out as soon as possible how much you are eligible for before you decide on your college list.
2. Immediately go to an EFC estimator (www.finaid.org for FAFSA (fed methodology) ; studentnpc.collegeboard.org for PROFILE (institutional methodology) and see how much $ you are going to pay.
This is true whether you are rich, don’t have much $ at all, or you are trudging along in the middle class like yours truly.
3. Look at both EFC estimators, if you want to go to an Ivy League or a popular, pricey school (www.profile online.collegeboard.com for the list of PROFILE using colleges).
4. Once you get your estimated EFC, focus on two quick overall strategies that will make a huge difference in how much you will have to pay for college:
—Pick schools that use the FAFSA, or primarily rely on the FAFSA (you can check with the 250+ and see which financial aid form they rely on) because it has a lot more legal loopholes that you can exploit than the PROFILE that is filling in all the loopholes with more forms as quickly as they can.
—Pick private colleges over public universities because they are a better buy. Although on the surface it looks like public universities are cheaper, you are often going to pay more in the long run. You are not going to get as good financial aid, nor get through them in timely fashion, and there are fewer merit scholarships.
This last strategy may sound contradictory because I just said the 250+ private colleges that use PROFILE are not as good a financial deal as the FAFSA colleges, so why am I saying that private colleges, on the whole, are a much better deal than public colleges that use the FAFSA? Because I am talking about the 3000+ other private colleges that rely on the FAFSA, have merit scholarships, and get you through in a timely fashion.
Turn your college spotlight on those colleges and see if you can find some fabulous ones that you really can afford.
5. Think you’re too poor to apply to a private school? Think again. I have talked with many parents over the years that chose public universities because they didn’t understand the concept of never paying sticker price for college. They ended up paying more in the long run because it took longer to graduate, there were no merit scholarships and the financial aid wasn’t very good.
Remember you are always going to pay your EFC, not what the college says it’s cost. That EFC is based on your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and the lower your AGI is, the lower you will have to pay for any college.
So for people who don’t have much but do have a great kid ready for college, private schools are a terrific buy! Remember also, that if you make less than $50,000 you are going to get lots of grants and free money and if you make less than $31,000 you are going to pay absolutely $0 for college.
6. When well off parents calculate their EFC and see it comes out to over $30,000, they erroneously think they won’t be eligible for any financial aid. Yes, they make too much to get any help from a public university but they will get financial aid at any private university that costs more than $30,000 so it is imperative they apply for financial aid and look at fine private schools.
7. Bottom line, the most important thing a parent can do from the outset of college financial planning is to do the Need Estimator. Then once you know approximately what you are going to pay, you’ll be able to use all the tips, strategies and legal loopholes that I am going to teach you in these blogs.
I am emphasizing this because in my work over the last 18 years with parents, I have found that too many parents procrastinate about finding out what they are going to have to pay.
Some parents are back in the past, “When I went to school, you could plenty of jobs on campus to help pay” (not true anymore) or “When I went to school, you could declare yourself independent and apply for financial aid yourself” (also not true anymore; today you must be 24 to be considered independent), etc.
Some parents prefer fantasy-college-land to learning the truth about college expenses.
But there is nothing worse than meeting with a family whose child has busted his butt to get into a great college and his parents suddenly realize that they can’t pay for it.
I remember in one family both parents had gone to Amherst and were absolutely thrilled when their boy got in. The only trouble was, they didn’t have nearly enough money for him to go and thought they made too much to get any financial aid so didn’t apply for it.
They came to me at the last minute asking about scholarships. After all, he was a 4.0 with 2200 SATs.
I looked at them and said softly, “I’m sorry but everyone who gets into Amherst has a 4.0 and wonderful SATs. And Amherst doesn’t give merit scholarships.” The parents were aghast and their kid was crushed, sitting there with bright tears gleaming on his cheeks.
I felt awful giving them the reality check but it was his parents who broke his heart, all because they didn’t want to really know what it would take for them to pay for college. Ahead of time. So they could have done something.
This is exactly why I am writing these blogs and pouring out everything I know from 18 years of work as a college entrance and financial aid coach. I never want to sit in my conference room with another devastated family.
It is important for you to know what you are expected to pay for college because then you can use all these strategies to position your financial story so you can get plenty of money to go!
But first you must bite your lower lip and take this first step: go to the Need Calculators online and find out your bottom line. Then read my blogs and let me help you improve it considerably.
Stay tuned for blog #5 wherein I talk about ‘Non need’ money, merit scholarships, which everyone is also eligible for–“The Secret to Getting Great Scholarship $$$”. Check out my website at www.college-quest.com. Leave a comment for me on this blog or ask me a question by email. I can’t promise I will answer every one but I will carefully read them all and learn what you need help with. Thanks for listening!