How much are you looking to spend on college?
Discussing such an inquiry can feel awkward but, at some point during our first meeting, finances do get addressed. Any discussion about college should be rooted in affordability. It is often the first time families have had an open discussion about finances.
Does the family assume the education will be paid for by need based financial aid or merit scholarships? Did the family set aside money? Is it in a 529 savings plan? Is the family planning on taking out loans? Whatever the situation, it is very important that the student and their family understand the options for payment and can apply them to their specific situation.
Sometimes when we ask about finances, a parent will respond, “It depends where she gets in. If she gets into our state university then she will go there.” We clarify that this means if the student is admitted to Home State U, then she must attend. Parents then counter with something like, “Well no, if she got into College We Respect we would find a way to pay.” We must confirm which colleges parents think are worth paying for BEFORE we allow students to get excited about options.
It’s complicated but a clear understanding before one creates a college list is key. It protects students from being admitted to their dream college and then having the family realize that they cannot afford or are not willing to pay. These are heartbreaking conversations to witness and they do not ever need to happen. Follow the advice below to keep the college search fun while staying on a healthy financial path.
Know your budget.
How much can the family pay for the Cost of Attendance (includes all expenses) over four years? Talk specific numbers. Explain what family will and will not be able to afford.
See if you will qualify for Need Based Financial Aid.
Search for an EFC Calculator and use it to calculate if you will qualify for aid. Use the online tool called MyIntuition to see financial aid options.
Educate yourself about the language used around paying for college.
Read the financial aid pages of colleges of interest. Follow the links. Learn the terms.
Have the talk.
Explain the college budget. Discuss options. Consider education payments through graduate school. Make sure that everyone understands expectations and the dollar amount.
Make sure the college list includes financial safeties.
Before a college makes your list, research its Cost of Attendance price. Also look to see if colleges offer automatic merit money awards for students earning a certain GPA and/or test score. Don’t forget to consider college specific scholarship opportunities and non scholarship opportunities. There are many search engines to help including goingmerry.com.
Using Cost of Attendance as a key criteria while creating a college list will help students understand how to determine value and affordability and will ensure that the process stays rooted in reality and that there are no surprises on college decision day.