What College Reps Wish
You Knew About
Paying for 

College

Financing your child’s education can be complicated.
Here’s what experts want you to know.

According to the College Board, the average published tuition, fees, room and board price for a public four-year in-state university was $20,090 for the 2016 and 2017 school year. Out-of-state universities had an average price tag of $35,370 that same year. And even then, that doesn’t account for expenses like textbooks, school supplies and transportation.  

For parents of children who want to pursue higher education, those numbers can be intimidating and the true, full cost can feel unknowable. A recent survey of 1,040 college students by College Ave Student Loans and Barnes & Noble College Insights found 1 in 3 seniors are unsure of how much they’ll owe on their upcoming student loan bill. The same survey determined median student loan estimates upon graduation were between $30,000 and $39,999.

“The reality is that higher education is expensive now, and I don’t see it getting any cheaper in the near future,” says Andy Strickler, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College, a private liberal arts institution in New London, Connecticut. That’s why proper planning is critical, as is having a full understanding of the full expense and possible financing options. 

Here, four experts in the financial aid process weigh in with their advice on what parents and students need to consider about paying for school.

Getting Started

Farnoosh Torabi

Personal Financial Expert and Host of the podcast “So Money:”

You can definitely open a college savings account before you have children. It’s never too soon. More realistically, it’s not too late to start talking about financing [during] freshman year of high school. 

If your child is a junior or senior in high school and the time to pay for college is faster approaching, consider a parent loan. This is a great umbrella option for unanticipated costs. The best ones offer direct deposit, which simplifies the borrowing experience even further.

Megan Coval

Vice President of Policy and Federal Regulations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA):

It’s never too early. These discussions can occur as early as elementary school. Look at two-year, four-year public and private colleges, and understand how these options vary from a financial standpoint. If families have the luxury of doing so, [they should] put a little bit of money away as early as possible.

Eric Blanco

Immediate Past President of the California Association of School Counselors (CASC) and a School Counselor at Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria, California:

It’s something to start thinking about in ninth grade. The sooner, the better. Once freshman year rolls around, there should be some plans in place in terms of what scholarships are out there and what they’re looking for. Seniors get turned on all of a sudden, but they don’t realize how many [scholarships] require a certain amount of community service hours or involvement in activities other than academics. Research that early on so you can really do that over four years of high school and make your résumé a lot stronger.

I recommend [families with high school juniors and seniors] investigate local scholarship foundations who award grants to students within their county or service area. Students' chances of winning/earning these scholarships are greater since they are competing with a smaller pool of applicants and many have the option of renewing grants/scholarships for multiple years.

Andy Strickler

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Connecticut College:

Many families, due to the strain that the middle class have felt in the last decade or two, have not been able to save for college as much as they would have liked. I think that family should target one of two types of schools. First, I would think about working as hard as possible to apply and gain admission at an institution that guarantees to meet full demonstrated need.  Second, this where a merit scholarship could make a significant difference to a family. At certain institutions (and certain segments of their admitted student array), a merit award can serve to "over meet" a student's need, allowing the family to reduce the overall cost of college below their Expected Family Contribution.

Weighing Options

Because it’s a goal for many parents to send kids to college, they will sacrifice their own future savings, like tapping into retirement accounts early or leveraging their homes with a home equity loan. Those are risky routes.

Torabi:

Parents really need to have many conversations with their children about the costs of college. Understand what your financial reality is.
 
Because it’s a goal for many parents to send kids to college, they will sacrifice their own future savings, like tapping into retirement accounts early or leveraging their homes with a home equity loan. Those are risky routes.



Blanco:

We’re constantly talking about the different types of financial aid. Work-study requires a job, but it doesn’t come out of pocket to pay.



Strickler:

Millions of dollars’ worth of scholarships go un-awarded because students didn’t know about them or didn’t apply. The college placement office or guidance office at the high school — they spend a good portion, if not all of their time, helping students navigate college admissions processes and have a finger on what [funding is] available locally.

And don’t overlook the institutions of higher learning themselves. Every institution wants to attract students and will have information on financial aid on their websites. ... Almost every institution has a significant need-based financial aid budget. It’s a significant resource that’s available to students.

What About Deadlines?



Blanco:

We’ve really stressed the importance of getting things done early on in the process. If you’re applying online [for financial aid], the system could crash or there could be a glitch because of high traffic. That creates so much stress at the last minute. Leave plenty of time for a school counselor to coach you, review your application, help you prevent basic errors that could prevent [your application] from syncing with financial aid application [systems].



Coval:

You’re going to have questions, and this gives you time to ask them or to talk to the school about how to make your finances work. Financial aid counselors aren’t just there for current students. They’re there for prospective students, too.

Federal vs. Private Loans



Coval:

Start the process as soon as you can. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available Oct. 1. If your student can land a federal student loan, he or she will enjoy many benefits. Those include things like not having to pay on the loan while in college or graduate school, a six-month grace period post-graduation to find a job before beginning loan payments, a variety of options for repayment dependent on one’s income and ability to repay, as well as discharge of the loan in the event of death or permanent disability.



Blanco:

Not everybody is going to be able to get just grants. Understand what it means to get a student loan and what types of loans are available. If you’ve exhausted public loan options, make sure you evaluate private loan offerings carefully.



Torabi:

Books, food, transportation, housing, fees and necessary electronics, like laptops — all these “extra” costs don’t have to come out of pocket. If scholarships, grants, federal loans and other sources of funding fall short, students can buy books or other school supplies with the funds from [a private lender such as] College Ave Student Loans, plus it also offers more flexible repayment options, unlike most private lenders.

The Bigger Picture



Torabi:

Going to college is a family affair. We spend a lot of time visiting campuses and talking about dream schools but not as much time taking a financially realistic approach. Parents really need to have many conversations with their children about the costs of college. Parents can come to the table with a lot more experience. Ask tough questions geared toward understanding the financial responsibilities of paying for higher education: How many students graduate from this school on time? What is the average student loan debt load? How successful are students after they graduate?
It’s easy to forget about the cost of dorm room supplies, transportation, and books. It’s equivalent to making a move. It’s always more expensive than you think.



Coval:

You don’t want to borrow more than what you anticipate earning your first year out of school. That’s a good
rule of thumb. If you’re going to be out living on your own, you want to make sure your student debt is not your biggest payment every month.

Cover the Cost

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