Focus on Finances
Thoughtful and responsible college choice involves financial consideration. No parent should risk financial ruin to pay for a child’s college education, nor should students graduate drowning in debt they cannot overcome. Avoiding these pitfalls requires planning, communication and some research
- Have an open and frank discussion with the student about expectations: yours as well as their’s. Share what your ability to contribute will be; discuss ways that they can and should be contributing as well. Are a portion of summer/after school earnings being earmarked for college expenses? If not, why?
- Don’t make decisions based on a published “sticker price”. Rarely is that what is paid. Schools have net price calculators on their websites. Find them (admittedly, sometimes that takes some searching!), and see what the actual expected cost to your family might be.
- Consider travel costs. If you are living on campus, no matter how close to home that is, there will be some cost to getting home for visits. Are there modes of travel to choose from (train, plane, bus)? Or will it require a car? Will parents have to drive round trip each time the student returns home? Will the student be taking a car to campus? This doesn’t mean you can’t go to school in a distant place; it does mean you need to anticipate what it may cost to get there and back.
- Take a look at the cost of books and supplies. Take a look at the course descriptions online, and see what the book and equipment lists look like. You can even price out the books on Amazon (usually cheaper than the on campus bookstore!). Some courses will forego a text, but require the purchase of a “packet” of readings that can be surprisingly expensive. Anticipate a reasonable budget.
- Look outside the box. There are amazing schools with budgets full of scholarship opportunities (and not just for the valedictorian either!). Be willing to explore places you may have not originally considered. The desired outcome here is the education, not the recognizable sweatshirt!
- Ask whether the financial aid situation at a given school changes over the course of the student’s enrollment. Is it possible that merit aid may be withdrawn over performance issues? Essentially, the question needs to be: Is this offer applicable to all four years?
- Don’t assume a state school will cost less than either a private school OR a state school in another state. In some cases, out of state tuition at a state school will exceed private tuition. In other cases, there are state schools whose rates for out of state students may be even less than they could achieve in their own state.
- Do your research and use your resources. Read school websites, reputable media articles (such as this one that appeared the Wall Street Journal (http://on.wsj.com/1Mn9yN4) , and consider using the resources of an independent college admissions counselor (http://bit.ly/14JDnqy). The information gained from that resource will likely far exceed the cost of the consultation. Thoughtful and responsible college choice involves financial consideration. No parent should risk financial ruin to pay for a college education, nor should students graduate drowning in debt they cannot overcome.