In April 2018 the college decisions started rolling in. My daughter—first born—applied to 15 universities (she worked super hard in high school and was determined to go to school up North). She had been thinking about going to university since 5th grade. Now, looking back at that time, fifteen applications was way too many—too much work and each application costs $$. The good news is that she got into 10 schools!
Here is what I have learned personally from the whole college planning process:
- Start saving into a 529 as early as possible. No amount is too small to contribute (even $25/month).
- It’s never too early to discuss with your child which colleges they are interested in and to research them to see if they are both an “educational and financial fit” for the entire family.
- Involve the entire family when discussing college at any level, particularly when getting into the logistics/costs, etc.
- We found it handy to hire a college counselor to provide guidance on the essays (luckily, my daughter got a scholarship which included services by a college counselor).
- Don’t discount state schools—they provide an excellent education at a great price, and some also offer prepaid plans (you can prepay college at today’s prices). The State of Florida also offers scholarships to students who go to their schools.
- Apply to at least one state school, one merit-based school, and one reach school like an Ivy League (i.e., hard to get into school). Don’t get crazy with the applications as each application can cost from $35-$75, and each university usually requires their own essay, which can be a lot of writing.
- There is nothing wrong with community college for the first 1-2 years. Don’t fall for the name brand, there are so many great colleges in the U.S.!
- Education is an investment but doesn’t have to put you in great debt (think community college/ scholarships/prepaid tuition) Research ALL colleges—not just the ones you hear about all the time (e.g., Princeton).
- Factor in all the costs for college including travel, if applicable, and supplies, etc. Estimates can be found on college websites.
- Scholarships: consider applying for local scholarships as there can be a better chance of beating the odds (versus national scholarships). Please note that scholarships can reduce one’s financial aid from a school.
- Each college has a net price calculator—this gives an approximate cost you are responsible for.
- Utilize college financial aid experts when completing both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which is for aid from the government and the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile which is for aid from institutions. These monies are based on your need, after taking into consideration your income and assets. It’s worth filing, you never know.
- Did you know?? - Retirement contributions in the year you apply to college are counted against you for financial aid purposes (the tax return 2-years prior to college starting is crucial for financial aid purposes), but money already in retirement accounts doesn’t count against you! Please note that even equity in a home can count against you.
- Seek insights on costs from high school guidance counselors and attend complimentary seminars from college financial counselors in your local area to understand your full range of options.