Figuring out how much a college costs isn’t so simple.
All colleges post “Cost of Attendance” – the sum of their tuition, room/board and student fees – on their websites. But most families don’t pay “retail.” The sticker price, much like airline tickets, can vary widely. Some students earn scholarships, many receive grants or work-study employment that lowers costs, and many more are offered loans through the school. Families can also arrange to obtain federal Direct Loans.
The important thing is to determine your family’s debt tolerance. How much money are you as parents willing to borrow to finance your child’s education? How much debt should they take on? What are their employment expectations after graduation when this debt will become due?
Many families want their children to have some “skin in the game” – take some financial responsibility for their education, in the belief that this will make them take classes and grades more seriously.
Here are some useful terms:
• Net Price: Colleges say their net price is cost of attendance minus grants or scholarships and loans, which makes the price more attractive. However, loans must be repaid, so a more accurate net price is cost of attendance minus grants or scholarships.
• Net Price Calculator: This is on every college website, typically under financial aid or admissions. The net price calculator is a new planning tool, and although it is not perfect, it will provide a fairly reliable estimate of what your net price will be.
• Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Expected Family Contribution (EFC): If you have a high school senior, complete the FAFSA ( www.fafsa.ed.gov) as soon as possible. If your child is younger, you can complete the paperwork, but there is no need to submit it.
The FAFSA will ask about your income and assets, not including retirement plans; your child’s income and assets in their name; the size of your household and the number of children in the household attending college.
Your EFC will be calculated once you have completed the FAFSA. It’s important to note that most colleges do not make up the difference between your EFC and the cost of attendance with grants.
Loans are frequently part of the financial package. If your EFC is more than the amount you have saved or what you had planned to spend, you have lots of company.
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.
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