When you have a teenager, each new year of high school inches them closer and closer to graduation.
And if attending college is part of their post-graduation plan, what looms ahead cannot be ignored.
Many parents who have already journeyed down this path say that if your student is a junior or senior, the insanity of all-things college will likely consume you – soon.
Oh no! How do you even stay sane?
If you need college admissions help, here are some pieces of advice, tips, and explanations to help guide you through the maze of college acronyms and terms that will become like a second language as your student prepares for college.
The Basics of the College Admissions Process
It’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a form that the federal government, states, colleges, and other organizations use to award financial aid.
Simply put, it’s an application, and you need to fill it out and submit it to see if your students qualifies for grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and federal student loans.
Even if you don’t think you qualify for aid, you should still fill it out. You need to know your income and have your tax returns handy to fill out this form.
When you complete it, FAFSA sends it back to you with you a number.
That number is…
EFC is Expected Family Contribution, which is a number that colleges use to determine how much financial aid your student can receive.
Your EFC number almost may give you a heart attack, because it’s probably not what you are capable of paying for your student’s college education.
You’re not alone having EFC shock. Don’t fear.
Ways exist to pay for college other than from your own bank account or retirement savings.
You do not have to fall below the poverty line or have a scientific genius kid with a 1600 SAT and a 6.0 GPA to get help paying for college.
And now, to further complicate things (even though the Powers That Be think it will simplify your life), the entire FAFSA/EFC “thing” will be changing in 2024
Your EFC will then be referred to as your SAI, but don’t get too frightened…if you know what’s coming, you will be prepared.
Know Your College Budget
Most of us have monetary limits, and check on your finances – regardless of how much or how little you have – when your child starts applying for college.
Since you will need to know your income for the FAFSA form, talk to your child about your family finances and college costs.
Don’t keep it a secret. Children need to know because their future will be affected by it.
You should also tell them it’s not smart to get monstrous loans, which could ruin any chance you have for retirement.
Maybe you think you can afford a $40,000 loan this year for your child’s first year of college.
Spoiler Alert: You will have three more years of this same loan or more.
Four years equal $180,000 excluding interest. Many times people’s credit and the debt-to-income ratio craters in the third year of college.
What could potentially happen then?
Your student has to drop out, and you’re paying back $80,000 without your child having a degree.
That’s why you have to research, and you have start now.
When you research, have realistic expectations about what you can afford and your student’s needs now and in the future.
You will sign up for lots of information, newsletters, and college updates.
You should create a throwaway email account for all the messages you’ll receive when you register at all the websites when you start your research.
Create a plan for researching taking into account your finances and your child’s goals – academics, social, sports, Greek life, etc.
Know the Basics of Student Loans
Does your child want to be a teacher or a social worker? A doctor or a lawyer?
The first two have lower salary expectations.
The last two have expensive post-graduate requirements. All four are similar though.
You don’t want to spend $70,000 a year on a career that only will pay $30,000 a year.
Equally, don’t spend $70,000 a year on an undergraduate degree if you know you will pay another $200,000 for advance degrees.
Most students cannot get loans to pay for a $70,000 a year school. Or a $50,000 school. Or even a $20,000 school.
The limit, by law, is a $5,500 government student loan. (This amount increases slightly each year).
You will have a hard time finding a private bank that will lend money to a student without a co-signer. Guess who is the co-signer? You. Do you know what that means? You are on the hook if Junior defaults.
College Application Fees
Many parents think that their student should apply to every college and “let’s see what they give us.” No. Don’t. This is not a college plan.
Sure, your child’s dream school may be Ivy League and sound glamorous, but if you can’t afford it or your child doesn’t have tip-top grades that could lead to needs-based scholarships, why apply?
Every time your student applies for a college, there is an application fee.
These add up quickly. Save a lot of money. Make a list of 10-15 colleges and focus on these.
This list will be your ticket to success.
Yeah, it can.
Here’s a scenario. It’s August. You have been denied loans because your credit is bad.
You may have no relatives to help you put your child through college. You may be barely able to buy groceries.
Your child may have been accepted to a college that you cannot afford, and they are preparing to go there in just a few weeks. You don’t know how to break it to your child, but you can’t afford it.
Don’t get yourself into this situation. You must be realistic and honest with your child from the start of the college planning process.
It sucks. It’s hard. But you have to do it.
The College Admission Process Is Overwhelming! Help!
Here are some quick tips to start planning.
The college search finder at Collegeboard.org will become your best friend. You can find majors, geography, school size and many other topics to help narrow your college search.
Research schools where your kid’s abilities look outstanding whether at an expensive, out-of-state school or one that may be down the street from you.
For example, if your child has an 1100 SAT and a 3.3 GPA, you can find a college that appreciates those numbers.
They may not be exactly what your student had in mind, but a lot of variables have to be factored in.
In fact, they may be your child’s dream school, and they just don’t know it yet. Your student may graduate with a degree, little or no debt and a great job offer.
Your second best friend? Our College Insights tool.
This tool will guide families to find colleges that can be more generous to their students.
By entering a student’s academic information, state of residency, location preference, along with interests in the arts, sports, STEM, and nursing, families will receive a list of colleges in order of merit or need-based generosity.
Along with a list of colleges, you’ll receive a list of merit scholarships that each school offers.
Scholarship details include:
- scholarship amount
- scholarship deadline
- whether a scholarship is automatic or competitive with the need for an application, interview, or audition
- eligible for transfer students
- eligible for international students
- specific for minority students
These are schools where your child will rank above the middle 50, and preferably in the top 25 percent.
The better your child’s data is in comparison with the average student, the more money available for education. Some public state universities (PSUs) offer impressive financial aid to out-of-state (OSS) students.
The same is true for private colleges. Don’t assume you can’t afford one.
Find two or three schools that are sure-things, “safeties,” where your student can easily attend and be happy there.
You will want to visit some of these schools to make sure your child likes what the campus offers, but it is not necessary to visit them all. In fact, there is a lot your student can learn from a college’s website.
These colleges also should be “financial” safeties, schools you can pay for with the expected financial/merit aid you will receive or with very small loans. Often, these are public universities in your state, or even community colleges, which are amazing bargains and the perfect fit for your student.
Once you identify some target schools, make your child is attractive to the admissions officers.
Collegeboard.org has a tab that lists what’s most important at each school. Learn that school’s listed priorities.
What else can you do? Visit the campuses, attend college fairs, and reach out to the schools’ regional representatives. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professors in your major and even alumni.
Is Hiring a College Admissions Consultant Worth It?
The answer to the question of whether or not hiring a college admissions consultant is worth it depends on your individual circumstances. If you can afford it and you’re not sure how to navigate the admissions process, then it might be a good idea to hire a consultant.
A college admissions consultant helps your family navigate the college admissions process by matching your student’s abilities, goals, and needs to specific schools to determine which options are a good fit.
Your consultant also helps your student through the application process, including making suggestions for the student’s college essay and identifying areas of improvement.
A college admissions consultant only works with a handful of students, one-on-one, guiding your family through the entire process.
For the benefit of such individualized attention, working with a college admissions consultant can be pricey. Fees vary depending on the amount of experience the consultant has and their location. However, consultants charge $200 per hour on average. You can expect to pay between $850 and $10,000 to work with a college admissions consultant depending on the person you work with and the services you purchase.
If you decide to hire a college admissions consultant make sure to do your research. Be sure to ask for referrals and read online reviews. You should also meet with a few different consultants before making your decision. College consultants can be costly.
Every student is unique. That’s why the college process can be tricky.
But with a lot of homework – some of it not easy – you can find a good match for your student that will launch them into their future.
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