Families know they should plan for college. They also know it’s going to cost them a significant sum—and most realize that could significantly impact their future financial plans and goals. Some parents might even throw up their hands and say, “It will be what it will be.”
As is always the case when it comes to planning for anything, the earlier you get started the better. Even if it’s too late to put money into a college-savings vehicle, there are other ways to effectively position yourself when it comes time to apply for financial aid. In fact, you can make changes to improve your eligibility all the way up to the point where you’re filling out your FAFSA and/or CSS Profile.
Here are three things to consider:
1. Don’t be fooled by the price.
Not everyone can afford paying $60,000— or even $20,000—out of pocket annually. And it doesn’t always make sense for students and families to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to finance the college experience.
That said, a family shouldn’t rule out any school that could be a great fit simply based on price. Schools that are more expensive tend to have resources available in the form of merit- and need-based aid to bridge the cost gap—resources public and state schools don’t have. So it’s not uncommon for the actual out-of-pocket cost of a public institution to be nearly equal that of a private school.
2. Know what’s impacting your financial-aid eligibility.
There is a time when families may not be able to catch up with their college savings. If you’re a family with a junior in high school, for example, there’s only so much you can put away.
You can, however, organize your finances to maximize aid eligibility. But first you must meet with someone who’s aware of what impacts your eligibility. There are specialists out there who can show families how their estimated family contribution—or EFC—is determined.
3. Planning is required—even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid.
Many families don’t believe they’ll qualify for financial aid—and in some cases, they’re correct. But you don’t know that for sure until you determine their EFC. Families are often surprised to find that they qualify for some sort of need-based aid extended by private schools.
All incoming freshmen qualify for financial aid. And while it may not be in the form of need-based grants or merit-based scholarships, aid is available via student loans.
Blaine Blontz is the founder of Philadelphia-based Financial Aid Coach. Prior to that, he worked as a financial aid counselor at Millersville and La Salle universities. Visit financialaidcoach.com.