The college plan is a very important process to lay out in detail. Sometimes, families can feel overwhelmed or stressed out by all the information, the forms, the applications, the deadlines, and the requirements. Now, if your child is already in their senior year of high school and hasn’t started on their college plan…well, let’s just say it’ll probably spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
So, how can you and your family get on the right track before trouble hits? Our team has 6 steps to help you get organized and get those documents submitted. Is your child plans to go to college in the next two years? Then this is the time to pull out all the stops.
Step #1: Select Your Schools
Your student should already have a list of colleges if they’re nearing the end of high school. That list should include well-researched colleges that your student wants to apply to. As well as institutions that can provide well rounded aid packages.Don’t forget the importance of seeing where your child fits in for each incoming class.
In general, the schools like to give their very best awards to the top 25 percent of students in each year. That means that while you can certainly include a few “reach” schools, it also makes sense to ensure that at least one or two schools on your list are those in which your child will be in the top quarter. Those schools will be the most likely to hand out a large award to your student. Without a proper college plan in place, your student could suffer the consequences.
Step #2: Track Your Deadlines and Forms
The most important thing to remember about college money: it is given on a first come, first serve basis! Schools aren’t going to wait for all applications to come in before handing out cash. In fact, if you keep waiting, there’s a good chance the majority of the funds will be taken.
It’s crucial that you know deadlines for each school and which forms they require. State colleges, for example, will want the FAFSA. It cannot be submitted before October 1st of your student’s senior year. Private schools (and some state schools) may want a CSS Financial Aid Profile. Deadlines for the CSS Profile can vary from school to school! Your family will need to have access to a comprehensive calendar so your college plan stays on track.
Step #3: Do Your Financial Strategies Before Filing Financial Aid
How much you pay for the next four years of college will largely depend on how you arrange your assets now. Sure, your situation might change. Your house price could drop or your business could enter a difficult period. You could always try to appeal your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) with the financial aid office. But, it’s much easier to get your finances arranged now.
Determine how you should place a value on your home and property or decide the best person to keep an asset under. It’s also important to decide how you should arrange your assets. For example, should any be devalued to reduce your financial contribution to your child’s education? Figuring out how to arrange your assets for your college plan isn’t easy, but it is crucial. Do it well and at the right time.
Step #4: Get the Details Right
You have a lot of forms to complete in a short amount of time. Many of those forms will be asking you the same questions over and over. Often those questions will be asked by the same school. That’s not a mistake. It is a system used by the school to make sure that your answers are always accurate and consistent. The schools’ computers are programmed to check the information you provide across all the forms to make sure that the details are always the same.
One inconsistency and your application will get sent straight to the slow track while the forms without errors pick up awards. Keep copies of all the forms you submit so you can double check the details as you complete other documents. Your student’s college plan could be overthrown without proper attention to details.
Step #5: Look at the Real Price of Private School
Many families will take a glance at the sticker price of a private college and high tail it the opposite direction. You have a good idea of your ability to pay for tuition. Unfortunately, these schools’ yearly tuition costs don’t seem to match. You’re making a huge misconception and you need to know how much college will cost.
When you’re looking for large financial aid awards, some of the best places to look are private schools. These institutions tend to have the most generous benefactors, the wealthiest alumni, and much larger endowments. There are more opportunities for privately funded scholarships or obtaining grants. The best part is, these aid packages are usually made up largely of “free” money. That’s right–you never have to pay it back. Many parents find that it costs more to send their child to a state school. Scholarships there can only fund so much and they cannot afford to grant financial aid awards to most kids.
Step #6: Look Beyond Need-Based Aid
Clearly, not everyone is going to be able to pick up need-based aid. For high income families in particular, very little is likely to be available. But just because someone has a high income doesn’t mean that an extra $20,000 or $30,000 bill each year will be reasonable to pay. Most families are living within their means. With various taxes taking up to 50 percent of incomes you’ll have to earn an extra $40,000 or $60,000 to fund that annual tuition bill.
That doesn’t mean you’ll have to tell the kids they can’t go to school. With careful planning, you can still create the income you need to pay for your children’s tuition and fees. With a specific college plan in place, students and parents have an easier transition into college.
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