Wednesday, 23 Jan 2013

5 Ways To Pay for College in Tough Times

The numbers are daunting: $20, $140 and $40,993 per year. These are the average costs of college for in-state universities and private colleges, according to the College Board’s “Trends In College Pricing” for 2010-11.

Multiply that figure by four and then multiply that number again by the number of kids you have. A family with just two college-bound kids is looking at a college bill between $161,120 and $327,944. The figures are outrageous and getting worse. Many families are faced with two options:

  1. Give up. Just throw in the towel. Send your child to community college or simply avoid college altogether.
  2. Dig deeper into every source imaginable to figure out how to get your children to their dream college – a school that will give them an enormous advantage the rest of their lives.

The large majority of parents I’ve spoken with over the years have chosen option 2. They’ve been digging deeper and deeper into every college funding source possible. But there are many things you can do to lower the overall cost of college. Here are the five best strategies to help pay for college during these challenging times:

College Financing Strategy 1: Need-based & Merit-Based Financial Aid

What better way than to have someone else foot the bill, or at least part of the bill? The best way to do that is to put yourself in the absolute best position to maximize the two major sources of free money for college.

For need-based financial aid, you must position your financial assets and income in the best light. Certain asset classes are not included in the financial aid formula. Complete the appropriate Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms on time and correctly. Identify and apply to the college with track records of paying out the best financial aid packages.

For merit-based financial aid, it’s important to search for and find the right school – the one school your child may be viewed as a star, whether it is in academics, athletics, music, etc. It’s also important for your child get the best grade possible on the SAT/ACT. Encourage your student to take practice tests as often as possible, and to take the SAT or ACT at the beginning of junior year. This gives the student the previous summer to study and practice at a leisurely pace without it interfering with school work. Acing the test essentially becomes a summer job. The student can then spend junior year focusing on making the best grades in school.

College Financing Strategy #2: Select the Right College

Choosing the right school for your child is a matter of finding the college where your student can shine, be it in academics, athletics or the arts. This is perhaps the trickiest one on the list. There are literally thousands of colleges to choose from. And the financial and merit-based aid for each school is not readily available for parents. It can be found, but it does require some knowledge and experience on where to look. Finding this information is critical. It is absolutely necessary to know what percentage of need met a college typically pays out if you want to maximize the free money your child can get for college.

You’ll also want to find out what percentage of gift aid each college typically gives in free money, and what percentage is in loans and work-study. Some schools will cover a high percentage of need met, but only a small percentage of the need is filled with free money, with the rest in loans and work-study. This is not a great deal. The goal is find the colleges that not only cover a high percentage of need met, but also give a high percentage in free money.

College Financing Strategy #3: Explore Work-Study Opportunities

Both kids and parents share in the cost of college. There is no doubt that you’re going to put some of your monthly income and current savings towards college costs. So why shouldn’t you have your child do the same? There are many additional benefits to having your child work and pay for college, such as learning life skills in budgeting and time management, avoiding the wrong major or career, building a resume and better grades. In fact, a US Department of Labor study concluded that college students who work 20 hours or less get better grades (and also have a higher chance of graduating).

You may also choose to have your child take out loans for college. Student loans often have better terms than parent loans. And you, the parent, can always help your kids pay those loans back down the road.

College Financing Strategy #4: File Financial Aid Award Appeal

Most parents assume that the initial financial package a college offers them is final. Please don’t make this mistake. Colleges are a business. They need students to the make the business work. And often times they will work with a family on getting a better financial and merit award package. But there is a right and wrong way to go about the appeal process.

Step one is to determine if you received a fair offer. You can do this by comparing your initial offer with what the school’s past track record is for financial aid.

Step two: Write a financial aid appeal letter. A step-by-step guide to writing an appeal letter is available on our website at http://www.collegemadesimple.com/how-to-write-the-financial-aid-appeal-letter

Step three: Use a better offer from a competing college to help improve the initial award package. Don’t be afraid to appeal or negotiate with a college. This is a proven strategy that a lot of parents overlook.

College Financing Strategy #5: Reduce Non-tuition Expenses

Consider having your child live off-campus (or live at home if possible). Each of these can provide a huge savings on room and board. You can buy college books for less by using sites such as bookrenter.com, chegg.com, or half.com. Each of these sites offers textbooks for a fraction of their retail cost. Select a meal plan that allows more flexibility by covering meals for the semester, rather than a weekly allotment.

Here is one last strategy, and it is possibly the most important one: Make a plan and take action on it. These strategies won’t work if you don’t put them into play. If you’re strapped for time or unsure of the best way to take advantage of each of these cost slashing methods, get help from a qualified professional. They could potentially save you a lot of time, headaches, and money.

One easy way to get started (and doesn’t cost a thing) is to use our Free College Funding Analysis. Follow this link to learn more: http://analysis.myonlineworkshop.com/8F8F0B9A63D47945040D0333F15A8366

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About the Author: Scott Weingold, co-founder of College Planning Network LLC and publisher of CollegeMadeSimple.com, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on college financial planning. He was ranked the #1 ‘College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About’ in the country by CollegeStats.org and is co-author of The Real Secret To Paying For College. As a sought after speaker, Scott contributes his expertise to CNN Money, Smart Money, and Reuters, and gives insider tips to parents directly through his e-letter College Funding Made Simple. For more information and resources, visit http://www.CollegeMadeSimple.com and http://www.CollegePlanningNet.com. Contact Scott at info@collegeplanningnet.com.


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