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Monday, March 31, 2014

College Crash Course Part 14: Paying for College




Although we need to discuss transcripts, college essays, and some other important college admissions items, I want to jump ahead to the topic of paying for college because this is a concern for so many. If you are worried about paying for college, be aware that there are many ways to make it affordable.

Talent Trap
In an attempt to fund college, some parents focus on their child’s talent in hopes it will earn him a scholarship. There are several issues with this, the first being that the child may not want to play baseball or piano or dance every single day when he’s in college. The second is these activities often dominate the student’s life making it difficult to keep up with grades and almost impossible to discover the passions and interests that will lead to his future career. 

Community College Confine
Most homeschoolers attempt to make college affordable by going to a community college for two years and then transferring to a larger school. This isn’t always the best course of action, as the biggest grants and discounts are offered to incoming freshmen. Unless your child did not take college prep courses in high school and scored below average on the SAT, community college is often not the cheapest option available.

Stop Sticker Shock
Here’s the truth: College doesn’t have to break the bank. The sticker price isn’t the final price. Even the most expensive schools can become quite affordable because of the scholarships, grants, and discounts available to your child. Don’t let price be the determining factor in applying to a college. Colleges want students—even if they have to take less to get them. 

The Big Three
There are three main places to get money to pay for college: The federal government, the state government, and the actual college your child will attend. There are thousands of other scholarships out there as well, but they typically only award a fractional amount. They may help, but they aren’t going to make a big difference. Focus on the big three I mentioned because that’s where the big money is. 

Federal Government
The federal government has money to give and money to loan. The less your family makes, or the more children you have, the more money you get. Your child may be awarded grants or work study money that he doesn’t have to pay back or he may qualify for low interest loans. 

When your child is a senior, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA- http://fafsa.gov) to claim your money! You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA for most scholarship applications and any aid the school will offer as well. So fill it out even if you think you make too much money. Colleges consider incomes under $200,000 for need based scholarships—especially if you have several children.

State Scholarship
Most states offer a scholarship funded by the state lottery. For example, Florida has Bright Futures; Georgia has HOPE; Kentucky has KEES, Tennessee has TELS; and South Carolina has LIFE. There are often rules about how and to whom this money is awarded. In Georgia, the HOPE scholarship is not need based but is based on the student’s grades and SAT score. 

College Cash
Most every college is willing to discuss the price package they are offering to make it more affordable. One elite private university revealed their average discounts, which are likely similar to many other institutions. Here is what they typically give: 

·    $3,000 for calling and asking for a discount
·    $2,000 for living out of state
·    $62 for every “A” on the transcript
·    $400 for every rigorous course on the transcript
·    $1,800 for every excellent recommendation letter
·    $115 for every 10 points on the SAT
·    $425 for every point on the ACT

There are numerous other criteria colleges use to award money to incoming freshman. Below are some tips for negotiating and lowering your child’s tuition bill.

Meet the Deadlines
Be sure you know when everything needs to be turned in. It’s hard to ask for something when you are not showing the fortitude necessary to meet deadlines. 

Don’t Call it Negotiating
Colleges don’t like to think of it as negotiating—which is adversarial. They like to think of it as “making it work” for your child to attend their school. Kindly ask them to reconsider the financial package they gave you. 

Be Professional
The key to getting a better deal is to be kind, calm, professional, and extremely polite. An angry or emotional parent will do more harm than good. You want them to want your child, right? If they don’t like you, that will reflect on your child. 

Be a Fan
Colleges are more willing to offer money to those who truly are committed to their school. They want to see that you love them as much as they love themselves. In fact, that’s why some people use the Early Decision option—to show allegiance.

I’ve heard that many colleges actually make a note of every single time you and your child contact the school. Let them know they are your first choice, but that it also must be financially feasible to attend. They’ll want you more if you want them more.  

Sell them on Your Child
Reiterate your child’s accomplishments, highlighting the reasons he would be an asset to the school. Never neglect to brag on your child’s special unique qualities and great character, personality, and achievements. 

Stir up the Competition
Very respectfully, without threatening, let them know about the offers competing colleges have made, explaining that your child would rather be at this school. Some colleges actually have a policy to match other schools’ offers. Be prepared to show them the package another college offered. 

If your child has been accepted at a public university with a lower tuition or has been offered a scholarship, ask the school of choice if they can match that rate. Private colleges are often happy to get some money from you rather than lose you completely.  

Explain Your Circumstances
Although FAFSA takes many things into consideration, sometimes there are circumstances beyond FAFSA that make it difficult for you to pay for your child’s college education. Are you supporting an aging parent? Did you have a period of unemployment? Do you have five kids or more? Colleges will take these special situations into consideration when adjusting their tuition packages. 

Elite Schools 
If your family makes under $200,000 and your child is very bright (scored exceptionally well on the SAT), you should seriously consider an elite school for your child. Schools like Harvard and Stanford have a lot of money and they are required by law to give it to students with family incomes below $200,000. They offer huge discounts or free tuition and possibly free room and board, depending on your income. 

For example: At Stanford, if a family has an income of less than $100,000, the student will not pay any tuition at all. Room and board is thrown in for students with family incomes of less than $60,000. Again, if you have a larger than average number of children or other special circumstances, you may get even more from these schools.   

Please know that you don’t have to mortgage the house for your children to attend college! There are many ways to make it affordable. Below is a blog post of some hidden ways to get a free ride to certain schools. Although the article is old and some of the information may be out of date, it can help get you started. Know this list isn’t exhaustive and there are many other hidden opportunities if you’re willing to search them out. 

Many parents have undue anxiety as they consider the expense of a four year college education. It can be overwhelming when you’re focused only on the lump sum peering at you from the college’s website. But don’t be discouraged! Remember, the Lord has already planned where your child will attend college, and He is able to provide exactly what is needed. Seek Him, asking Him to lead you to creative options that will help save on college expenses. You may have to do some hard work finding hidden money, but it will be worth it when you come to the end of the journey and finally set your child on the path God has chosen just for him!


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