Financial Aid Advice From HECA Members

Recent economic news has many families worrying about paying for college. Here are some tips from members of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) to help your family pay for college:

As with airplane travel, where everyone pays a different price for each seat, not everyone attending college pays the “sticker price.” Depending on your family’s income and assets, you might be asked to pay the full price at a college costing $25,000, but about the same amount at one costing $45,000 after financial aid and scholarships are factored in. The bottom line is you never know what you’ll actually pay until you can compare all of your financial aid and merit scholarship offers, so apply thoughtfully to colleges that would be eager to enroll you, and complete all financial aid applications on time. Jon Tarrant, Jon W. Tarrant Associates Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Include your son/daughter in discussions about the amount of money available to them for college. Explain that the “pot” is just so big and the cost of attending X, Y and Z College varies along with travel expenses. Discuss the availability and responsibility of college loans. Couch the discussion in terms which reflect that finances are important but are only one of many factors to consider. Your son/daughter will appreciate being treated as an adult and understanding what their parameters and options are. Given all the appropriate information and the opportunity to weigh the choices, he/she will make a responsible decision. Belinda Stern, Custom College Connection Mercer Island, Washington

Don’t segregate your student’s college search from your family financial plan. Take a “dry run” through the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) formulas (yes, there are two of them!) that colleges use to determine family need. Take a hard look at your family resources: cash flow, savings and your ability and willingness to borrow for college. Your resources must cover the EFC for each year in which your child will be enrolled in college. Otherwise, you’ll need to look for colleges that you can afford with or without a merit scholarship. Todd Fothergill, Strategies for College West Lebanon, New Hampshire

If you need financial aid, the most important question to ask every college before you apply is this: What percentage of your students have their full demonstrated need met by financial aid? A good rule of thumb to remember is that the higher the percentage of students at a college who have their full demonstrated need met, the better the chances are that your full demonstrated need will also be met through some combination of grants, loans and work study. Carolyn Lawrence, AdmissionsAdvice.com Jamul, California

One way to bring down the cost of college is to target lower-cost schools.While some public universities are quite expensive for out of state students, others are significantly less than most private colleges. Students in some states can take advantage of reciprocity agreements. For example, the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) enables students in many western states to attend public institutions in other states in the region at a cost that is less than the normal out-of-state tuition. Audrey Kahane, West Hills, California

Families who make too much money to qualify for aid but too little money to afford college are the new, disadvantaged middle class. Consider community college – some offer dorms and 17 states now allow community colleges to grant bachelor’s degrees. Apply to an in-state public. And finally, apply to a few private colleges where your GPA and test scores exceed those of most applicants. Students in the top 25% of the applicant pool are often offered unsolicited merit scholarship discounts. Joan Rynearson, College Advisory Service Bainbridge Island, Washington

Help your son or daughter develop good personal financial habits before they head off to college. Talk at home about budgeting, credit card management, setting financial goals, and saving. Teaching sound money management skills early is one of the best ways to set your child on a path to financial security after graduation. Did you know that banks see college campuses as fertile ground for new credit card customers? Unfortunately, many young people are ill-prepared to fully grasp the pitfalls of accumulating unpaid credit card balances with interest rates of 18% or more. By making your child aware of both good and bad personal finance habits you can help him or her get an early start on responsible money and credit management. Jane Klemmer Klemmer Educational Consulting Briarcliff Manor, New York
article courtesy of Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), www.hecaonline.org

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