Studies show most people underestimate the time and effort required to successfully plan for college. Here are 6 proven steps you can use to keep yourself in the game.
1. Don’t wait until your student’s senior year to start developing a plan. College has become very competitive and the financial aid process is complicated. Waiting until you have a senior to get serious puts you at a huge disadvantage. If you still have time, use it wisely and get started today.
2. Ask good questions when selecting colleges. You need answers to many important questions before making a final college decision. Ask them things like “How much of my financial need will you meet?”, “How much of your aid will be free money vs. loans, work study, etc.?”, and “How long does it take on average to get a degree at your college?”. Getting these kind of facts up front can make a huge difference over time!
3. Understand that colleges are businesses and that you are their customer. Most parents have been trained to think the colleges are in charge of the relationship. That’s not entirely true. You are the consumer and having a “smart consumer” mindset works to your advantage. In most cases, they want (and need) you as much as you want them. Keep control of the process by being knowledgeable. You get to make the final decision. Take your time and make a good one!
4. Shop for colleges based on how it meets your student’s needs, not based on your ability to afford their sticker price. In most cases, the price you see quoted is not what you’ll actually pay – unless you ignore your opportunity to save money by planning ahead. Each family has the right to establish an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) with both Uncle Sam and each college they’re considering. That calculation determines your share of the college bill - and it can be as low as zero! Learn how your share of the bill is calculated and find ways to lower it!
5. Apply to between 6-8 colleges. Understand there are different tiers of colleges to consider when creating your prospective college list. You want to have a safety school (a college you know you can get into and pay for without any help) on your list just in case nothing else works out. Also include a couple of reach schools. You may be pleasantly surprised one day to find they accepted you. The rest of your list should include your core schools. These colleges are on your list because they meet your needs and offer programs suited to your interests – and you are good fits for them too!
6. Work your best offer. The best way to increase your offer for financial aid is to have multiple offers. By applying to multiple colleges, you can request financial aid from multiple places – each with different levels of available financial assistance. Having a variety of offers can significantly increase your chances of getting a good deal. And don’t be afraid to ask for more. Many colleges will negotiate your award package with you. Just ask if there’s anything more they can do to help you once you receive your award package. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!