Thoughtful Parenting: Financial aid for students and parents
Next to retirement, the financial aid process can be the most daunting of all transitions facing a family and their college-bound student(s). This also includes families anticipating sending their child to a private university, trade and or technical school.
Here’s where many families that have had very frugal spending habits may be rewarded and where others may find themselves in a bit of a predicament.
The financial aid formula and methodology will help you estimate how much your family will be expected to contribute toward the cost of your higher education. This magic number commonly is referred to as your EFC, or expected family contribution, which is based strictly on income.
The three-line equation also determines the amount of “need” a family qualifies for. Need is where most of the money comes from. Students, this is a good time to have your parents involved since many of the questions refer to Mom and Dad’s current and past financial circumstances.
To help expedite the process, two key components need to be working in concert prior to beginning the process:
• College applications submitted
• Most recent ACT and SAT submitted, if required.
Merit-based aid or merit scholarships are what the student is able to bring to the table in the form of:
• Musical talent
• Athletic ability
• Any creative aspect the student excels in
This then enables the college or university to determine admittance and monies available to a perspective student and family. Jan. 1 of each year is the open enrollment for the FAFSA form, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
This form puts students and their families in line for available financial assistance.
Financial aid typically is on a first-come, first-served basis. The longer a family delays, the less likely they are to receive help. Only 1 percent of families in the United States actually can write a check out of their current income or savings and pay for college.
If you belong in the 1 percent, congratulations. The rest of us have to put many pieces of the puzzle together to make the college dream become a reality.
Deadlines come and go, so it is crucial to be aware of these dates and follow through. Whether a family’s income ranges stay below $30,000 per year or well above $50,000 to the six-figure income range, all families are encouraged to apply.
If a family opts out of the application, there will be no chance whatsoever for aid. Therefore, all families are encouraged to apply regardless of income level. The majority of financial aid forms will ask a sequence of questions pertaining to:
• Family finances
• Test scores
• Recent roster of college choices for admission
A good hand to play that we recommend is to apply to three public (state) schools and three private colleges. Private schools typically have larger endowments and offer larger packages just due to the fact that their annual cost is usually two to three times the annual cost at a state college.
If your student has their heart set on a certain college and they have the merit that a private college is looking for, then by all means apply. You can’t get help if you don’t ask for it.
This initial snapshot of the financial aid process will help you and your family begin to navigate the beginning steps of financial aid and college entrance. Colorado Student Care staff can assist with direction and support for families during this process.
George Avgares is the executive director for Colorado Student Care in Steamboat Springs. He’s been involved in the youth educational nonprofit sector for 15 years. Avgares is a member of the Routt County Youth Services Coalition, whose website can be found at http://www.youthinroutt.org.
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