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Affording College Expenses = Planning, Planning and More Planning

Many families believe their income is too high to qualify for any financial aid, so begin making alternative plans to pay for college, and don’t complete the required forms to apply for financial aid–including the FAFSA.  Regardless of the family’s perception or stories they’ve heard about other people’s experiences, always fill out the FAFSA.  Let the college tell you that you’re not qualified for financial aid.   In addition, knowing the different types of financial aid can help families plan accordingly for the expense of college, without unnecessarily removing themselves from potential financial assistance:

  • Need Based Aid: is financial assistance that colleges award in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study (i.e. a job) and/or loans, based on the family’s income and asset values as reported to the FAFSA, and in some cases, through the CSS/PROFILE (a form some private universities require, that asks for more detailed information about the family’s finances.)  Need Based Aid is often the type families feel they will not qualify to receive.
  • Merit Aid: are often renewable–meaning each year of college the student receives the same amount of money–scholarships (i.e. free money) that’s based solely on the student’s academic merit–grades from high school, SAT or ACT scores or leadership abilities.  Many times students are considered for merit aid, based only on their application for admissions, and are awarded the money from the college admissions office.   Financial need or the family’s ability to pay for college is not a consideration in awarding merit aid.

There’s many different questions to answer when paying for college.  Arming oneself with information is the first step to gaining confidence in one’s plans.  A college education is the first major financial investment many teenagers are making and asking their parents to make in their lives.  While the expenses for this or that extracurricular activity may add up over 12 years, college expenses are a concentrated, thousands of dollars to pay in a 4 year period.  In an era, when college tuition has been rising annually for 3 decades, and families may be already perceiving their ability to afford their lifestyle is decreasing, there can’t be enough planning for college expenses.   Knowing the facts can help make objective decisions that will afford the greatest college opportunities.