Let’s face it, college tuition isn’t like any other major expense. If the price of plane tickets goes up, you can put off your vacation until prices drop. If interest rates sky rocket, you wait another year or two before upgrading your car.
Colleges around the country have found that the only way to get all the money they need is to ramp up tuition fees to historically new levels. Whatever budget you were imagining could fund your child’s education, there’s a good chance that you’re going to have to rethink the strategy. Fortunately, there are a number of options available that can help you pick up all the financial aid you need. At the very least, with the right advice, you should be able to take a significant amount of pain out of the annual budget. In fact, make the right moves now and you might even find it easy to pick up all the help you need.
So, how can your family maximize financial aid…?
1. Choose the Right Schools
It always makes sense to choose schools that have good financial aid packages. When a college’s fees are high, it becomes even more important. Once states hit financial trouble, one of the first things they do is turn off funding for public colleges. Instead, they expect parents to fill in the monetary void. That means the private schools that don’t rely on public funds can suddenly look a lot cheaper in comparison. More importantly, they usually have much better scholarship programs and funding packages available.
When you draw up your list of schools, take another look at the private schools and try to include some that have great funding available. You might find it’s the easiest way to give your child an excellent and affordable education. Another key note is not to assume your academic superstar is going to be awarded merit money.
There are 83 schools in the country that award no merit funds or less than $5,000 a year. Yes even if you have the valedictorian! These are need based financial aid schools that can be a tremendous financial opportunity if you have a lower expected family contribution (EFC).
2. Change the Program
When you were trying to figure out how much your child’s education was going to cost you, you were probably thinking in terms of a traditional four-year program. But that’s not the only way your child can pick up a college degree. There are options to change the program to lower typical college fees.
For example, the first year at most colleges are pretty much the same. All those 101 and 102 courses start with the basics and build a foundation for the following years. Your child will get exactly the same knowledge whether they are at a state school, a private school, or a low-cost community college. That means you could start your child at a community college for the first year and then upgrade in the second, saving you thousands on those first-year expenses.
Another option is to have your student take classes in the summer. Summer classes could make it possible to finish his or her degree a year early, saving you a year of college bills, and head out into the workforce a year before their peers.
Finally, you could encourage your child to combine work with study. That would probably add a year to the program but would allow your child to contribute to their own tuition bills and send them into the employment market with experience and independence already under their belt- a desirable asset in these competitive times.
Not all of these different programs will be right for your child. Some require discipline, others, a willingness to stay in town after graduating from high school, but they’re all worth looking at with your child to see which can work for you and how much money you can save.
3. Arrange Your Money
The amount of college aid you receive will depend on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC will be determined by your financial situation. That means that applying for financial aid is a little like paying your taxes. You want to make sure that when the powers-that-be pour over your financial paperwork everything is arranged so that you have to pay the least amount possible.
You wouldn’t dream of filing your tax return without first talking to an accountant to see what you can claim and where you can get the most write-offs. Look at the college financial aid forms the same way and discuss your situation with a college planning advisor. Remember, the figures you present could have repercussions for the next four years and beyond. It literally pays to get it right from the start.
4. Take Care When Filling Forms
You’re going to find yourself filling out seemingly endless amounts of forms. There are college application forms, scholarship forms, FAFSA forms, and Profile forms. You name it, there’s a form for it. And you will have to fill it out correctly. When you’re looking at the fifth form of the month, it’s too easy to slip up. Enter the wrong figure in the wrong box, and you blow your chances of picking up the cash you deserve.
Financial aid is not just awarded to those who need it most. It’s awarded to those who ask first. If you feel pressured by the huge mass of forms, if you think you might miss a deadline or make a mistake, get help from an expert. It could be the difference between a huge college bill and a very generous award.
5. Turn Problems into Solutions
It’s not just colleges and state governments that can suddenly find themselves strapped for cash. Parents could unexpectedly find themselves out of work or with large medical bills to pay. All bring greater challenges in their ability to pay college fees. If your economic situation has taken a turn after filing for financial aid, do not hesitate to have a meeting with the financial aid office. That change could have a dramatic effect on your college financial aid application, making you eligible to receive more funds. Even if your child is currently benefiting from a college aid award, it’s always worth discussing any changes to your economic situation.
6. Make The Most of Your Assets
Very few families can afford to pay for college tuition without some form of help and the average american transfer away up to $1,000,000 of wealth over their lifetime due to improper planning.
Even high-earning families have little spare cash to pay an extra fifty or sixty thousand dollars a year. Lower income families frequently struggle even after receiving a generous award. The fact is, the help you receive from the financial aid administration is rarely enough to see you through four years of tuition bills.
Most families are left to find creative solutions for the extra money and miss opportunities to fund the college bill properly.
7. Create a Four-Year Funding Plan First
So many families pick a college, pay for the first year and try to figure out how to fund the remaining years. This is a guaranteed way to overpay on college. By building a four year funding blueprint, a family can usually uncover strategies that will actually lower the costs for those additional years. Knowing the ways to pay for college can save you thousands and put money back in your pockets.
8. Know The Rules of the Game
When it comes to financial and merit aid, no two families are the same. Every family has different needs, incomes, and expenses. And every family needs individual advice about the best way to meet the financial demands for the next few years. College’s operate like businesses (enrollment management) and once you understand the game you can win.
If you have any questions, Let’s connect – schedule a complimentary 30 minute call.