As Spring makes its way across the country, so do college acceptance letters for high school seniors. While students are happily rejoicing, parents are wondering where they will find the money and pray that their children won’t end up defaulting on future loans.
“This is the month of negotiating,” Bob Ilukowicz, a financial aid consultant said to Reuters. Ilukowicz says that there is definitely aid still available. In fact, this upcoming 2012-2013 school year is seeing higher offers than those of years past. The average cost of a private nonprofit four-year college is now $38,590 including tuition, fees room and board but aid, classified as grants and federal tax breaks, generally take off $15,530 from that cost. According to the US Department of Education, about 80 percent of full time undergraduate students receive some kind of aid, and almost 64 percent receive grants that don’t have to be paid back. Still, student loans make up almost half of all financial aid.
Reuters suggest that in lieu of these facts, the first things parents and students should do is ask for more. Joe Paul Case, Amherst College’s financial aid administrator reveals that about two-thirds of parents who make a request for more aid get it. Amherst is a school that sticks to needs-based assistance, but schools that have the funds to offer merit and competition demands offer an even better chance that a parent’s appeal will be rewarded.
Be open and honest about family situations. Some colleges will take family problems that don’t appear on the financial aid sheet into consideration. Situations that often get re-considered are instances where non-custodial parents are not willing to help with school fees, and parents that now have good jobs but weren’t able to fully recover from a year of unemployment or healthy problems.
Think creatively. Starting school at a more affordable community college to take pre-requisites saves money. Taking a gap year to work before going to college also helps to offset the high cost of tuition. If a deferral puts the older student in college at the same time as the younger, this may also help a parent’s case to win more financial aid.
Schools that won’t negotiate may allow parents to pay on a monthly basis as opposed to a one large sum in a semester. This can help with cash flow. Also keep in mind that home equity credit lines now have lower rates than college loans. In addition, refinancing a home mortgage may also help with college costs.
Remember, before any decisions are made, consider all options and make as many appeals as you can. Many students aren’t able to attend their first-choice school because of finances. But consider the high cost of tuition vs. education quality and job opportunities upon graduation. Research shows that great students will do well regardless if they attended a public or a private school. Perhaps it’s best not to spend all of the money and obtain thousands of dollars in debt for an undergraduate education.