While students begin scouring resources to determine their best-fit college, parents are left scratching their heads over how to pay for it. These simple steps can give parents a great start on finding available financial aid and paying for college.
Step 1: Determine Cost of Attendance (COA).
Many families go to a school’s website, look up cost of tuition, add room and board, and run with that number, forgetting to factor in the cost of fees, books, travel, and personal expenses. Be sure to add all the applicable costs to get the COA. You can also find this information on College Navigator , the U.S. Department of Education’s website; you’re looking for the “Total Expenses” line. This site also shows you the percent increase in cost from year to year, which is great information to have. Nationally, the cost of college is rising at two and a half times the rate of inflation.
Step 2: Determine YOUR Net Price.
By law, every college receiving federal money is required to include a Net Price Calculator on its institutional website. The best tools take time to complete and give you detailed information that includes anticipated grants or scholarships; however, most are quite simple (meeting the letter of the law) and leave users with something to be desired. An additional resource for finding net price is the aforementioned College Navigator, which offers a “Net Price” section for each school or on the College Results website.
Step 3: Determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
In January of the student’s senior year of high school, most families will complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Ultimately, the government gives you your EFC, which determines how much aid your family is eligible for. Want to get an early idea of your EFC? Use the FAFSA4caster.
Step 4: Compare Indebtedness of Graduates.
The average college graduate in 2013 had accrued $28,400 in loans. Knowing the average indebtedness of graduates for schools of interest can help families determine the affordability of a school. Asking the school for this information is one approach, or you can visit College InSight, a non-profit organization that focuses on college access and completion. One good rule of thumb is to plan not to have more college debt than you can expect to earn in your first year out of school. However, the number you’re comfortable with is ultimately up to you.
Step 5: Start the Scholarship Search.
There are many sites on the Web dedicated to matching you with scholarships for which you are eligible. Go ahead and sign-up, but set up a special e-mail address only for receiving scholarship notifications so that your personal e-mail is not inundated. Keep in mind that only .3% of college students get a full ride to college, according to Mark Kantrowitz, an expert and author who writes extensively on scholarship availability.
In reality, students won’t likely get all their acceptance and aid offers until March or April of their senior year. It’s wise to do your homework and wait for all offers so that you can compare. Remember that seniors’ college commitment day is May1 of each year.