When our children were born, way back when, we thought we were diligent by opening a 529 plan before they turned one and contributing to it on a regular basis. Back then, tuition at an elite school (like Stanford) was $20,490*.
Many of us weren’t even aware of tuition costs, but we assumed our attention to savings would get us to where we needed to be when it was time for our kids to go to college.
Today, the cost to attend schools like Stanford, and many other private schools, range from the high $40,000s to the low $80,000s! And tuition at state schools has also increased significantly.
Figuring out how to pay for college is not easy. Don’t comfort yourself by avoiding the inevitable, especially by saying “We’ll worry about it after he gets in.” Understand why these five things that parents think will help them pay for college, won’t.
What will help is to start educating yourself on financial aid and college data BEFORE you and your child even put together a list of possible schools.
Common Myths About How to Pay for College
We’re not saving so we’ll qualify for more financial aid.
This strategy assumes that colleges are going to punish those who save money and reward those who don’t.
The thinking is that since families don’t have any money set aside for college, the colleges will have to increase their financial aid awards. It doesn’t really work that way.
The federal financial aid formula that calculates the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is not based on money families set aside, but mostly on their actual current earnings.
The money a family spends on bigger houses or fancier cars, in leu of saving, is expected to go towards paying college. Just because families need the money to make their current house and car payments doesn’t translate into reducing their Expected Family Contribution.
If families can’t meet their EFC, colleges tend to provide them with information on student loans, not extra money to make sure they won’t have to reduce their current spending.
My son is ranked 2nd in his class and has amazing test scores, so he’ll get a scholarship.
Not if he’s applying to colleges where other students with the same qualifications are applying. There are over 25,000 public high schools in the United States, each with their own valedictorian.
Over 125,000 high school students will be ranked in the top 5 of their class.
Furthermore, approximately 75,000 of college-bound seniors scored a 1400 (out of 1600) on the SAT, which is the 96th percentile. There are over 110,000 students with equivalent ACT scores.
Yet, the total number of freshmen in the top 20 national universities is around 40,000.
The reality is that if your child gets into one of the most elite colleges, they won’t be rewarded for their academic qualifications. After all, they’re the same as everyone else the college admitted.
At Harvard, 80 of the admitted freshmen had 700s or better on the SAT Math and Critical Reading Sections.
If you’re hoping for a scholarship from the college to pay the tuition, you need to look at schools where the student’s academic qualifications distinguish him from the majority of other students at the school.
Our student is going to declare to be independent, so she’ll qualify for more financial aid.
Students aren’t independent simply because their parents don’t claim them on their income tax forms.
In fact, there isn’t anything the parents can actually do to make a student independent. Conditions that make a student independent for FAFSA purposes can be found on the federal aid website.
My daughter is the star of her high school team and is going to get a full-ride athletic scholarship.
As good as your daughter is at soccer, the odds are that she won’t get an athletic scholarship, much less a full-ride. This is simply a matter of numbers.
Over a third of all colleges do not offer any athletic scholarships. Furthermore, colleges that do offer scholarships do not offer full scholarships for most sports.
There are only six sports required to offer full scholarships (football, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, gymnastics, and tennis) and only at the D1 level. All remaining sports are equivalency sports meaning one scholarship can be divided among multiple players.
This happens because the number of scholarships allowed is always fewer, sometimes dramatically so, than the average team’s roster and just because a school is allowed to offer 12 scholarships, doesn’t mean they will fund them all.
Colleges actually offer more academic scholarships than athletic scholarships. For most students, placing athletics before academics in hope of getting a scholarship is a risky strategy.
“If you get into your dream school, we’ll find a way to pay for it.”
It’s only natural for parents to want to reward their children’s hard work.
If all their high school accomplishments result in acceptance at one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, it’s hard for parents to deny them the opportunity to attend.
But the reality is that it’s a bad idea for parents to borrow $200,000 or more or withdraw money from their retirement. Parents need to discuss how much money is available for college BEFORE students start applying to colleges.
Research colleges more generous with merit aid, apply for scholarships, consider your educational path, and plan ahead.
You won’t qualify for aid, so don’t bother filling out the FAFSA.
Don’t skip filling out the FAFSA, even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. It’s used to determine a student’s eligibility for work-study programs and other sources of aid.
Some schools also require your student to fill out the FAFSA to be considered for merit aid.
You can’t afford to apply to a private university.
Most students don’t pay the “sticker” tuition price for college. Some private colleges have substantial aid packages that can reduce the cost even below that of a public in-state school.
Work-study programs may also be more accessible at a private school than a public one.
You will only need to pay the FAFSA EFC amount.
The EFC does not equal the out of pocket cost you’ll pay at a school. It is considered to be the minimum amount the federal government expects you can pay for the academic year you submitted the FAFSA, but you may pay more or less than that amount.
Your actual cost of college will vary based on available funding at each school and a variety of factors.
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