10 Steps To Affordable College Education

Sunday, August 28, 2016


How can you assure that your student receives an affordable college education?

I received this comment on one of my blog posts from a parent:

I am so unprepared. I had no idea about the steps I should have taken. My daughter officially started class yesterday and I am struggling to figure out how to pay for it. She made above average grades and a wonderful ACT so I really figured she would get some kind of offer. She did not and we are middle class but FASFA says we make too much money. I am in such need of help and guidance.

This is the predicament of so many middle class families. Their student applies to college, is accepted, and receives no financial aid. They are stuck with the dilemma or sending them to this college and finding a way to pay, or disappointing their child and also incurring debt so she can attend.

Before you find yourself in this situation, here’s my advice on how to get an affordable college education and avoid this difficult conversation with your student.

Step 1—Get good grades in high school

There is nothing more important to receiving good financial aid than good grades. These habits actually begin in middle school and build until your student applies to colleges. Good grades represent a commitment to education and academic excellence—two things colleges look for in an applicant.

Step 2—Take AP Honors and/or Dual Credit classes

Colleges look for students who take these college-level courses increasing your student’s chances of merit aid. But the best benefit of these classes is the cost savings you will realize. If your student takes AP classes, takes the test and does well, he will receive college credit. Dual credit courses are taken during high school and once completed, count for college credit. Comparing the cost of an AP test or Dual Credit course to the cost of a course in college, you save thousands.

Step 3—Score well on the PSAT

If your student scores well on the PSAT and is a National Merit finalist, the financial flood gatesfrom colleges will open. Your student should take this test as seriously as she does the SAT or ACT. It’s more than a practice test!

Step 4—Score well on the SAT and/or ACT

Standardized test scores will have an effect on the college’s financial aid award. Good grades, a good essay, and good test scores will make you a desirable candidate for admission which can mean merit aid.

Step 5—Apply for scholarships like it’s your job

Your student’s #1 job in high school is to apply for scholarships. Don’t wait until senior year. There are scholarships available for all ages. The more he applies, the better his chances to win. Keep applying during college too!

Step 6—Apply to the right college

If your student is at the top of the applicant pool, it is more likely she will receive financial aid. Colleges reserve merit aid for the students they want to attract. Applying to an elite college where there are hundreds of applicants with better grades and test scores the chances of being awarded financial aid are slim. But if your student applies to a college where most of the applicants scores and grades are average and your student’s are stellar, the chances of receiving financial aid are good.

Step 7—Search for colleges with good financial aid footprints

Use sites like CollegeNavigator and CollegeData to find colleges that award a high percentage of financial aid to admitted students. If your student applies to a college that offers a low percentage of aid, you are gambling with your financial aid. A sure bet would be a college that meets a high percentage of a student’s financial need.

Step 8—Compare financial aid awards and appeal

Once your student receives financial aid awards compare them with one another. Use the top awards to bargain with the college your student most wants to attend. Appeal the awards and ask for more aid. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. Colleges have award money available from those students who declined admission.  If they really want your student, they might increase the award.

Step 9—Work during high school and college

You would be surprised at how much money your student can earn during high school. If he or she is too young to work at traditional jobs, there is always babysitting and yard work. Be sure you put the money in your own account, however. Student savings will decrease your EFC substantially. And during college, your student should work. Studies show that students who work are often better students and time managers.

Step 10—Go for the gold

If your student is open to attending a tuition-free college your worries will be gone! These colleges are not for everyone but they are worth investigating: 8 Colleges Where Students Attend for Free.

Best advice: Determine before your student applies to college how much you can afford to pay if he or she doesn’t qualify for financial aid. Even if you follow all of these steps, be prepared for this possible outcome. If you do, you and your student won’t go into debt or be disappointed when the answer is no.


More great advice from Suzanne Shaffer, Parents Countdown To College Coach




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