It is often talked about by bankers and real estate agents that buying a home will be the largest purchase of your life. They fail to mention the cost of sending our children to college, which not only runs a close second, but may even eclipse that cost, especially if you have more than one child.
According to www.collegeboard.org, there are many colleges that cost more than $70,000 per year when all factors are considered. Many families avoid even looking at these schools because they think they can’t afford it. In some cases, that may be true, however, in many cases it is not true at all. How can a family know what is truly affordable and how does a family go about reducing the cost of college to give their child the best opportunity possible? At the end of the day, this is what most families want to do.
The process begins with research and understanding the Financial Aid System. There are many ways to break down the words Financial Aid, so we will start with two categories: Merit Based Aid and Needs Based Aid.
Merit Based Aid is aid that a student can earn during his or her high school career. Intuitively we begin to think grades and SAT scores. Of course, the higher the student ranks academically, the better chance they will receive merit-based aid. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the student, that is not where the story ends. Today colleges are looking for more than grades. They are looking for a well-rounded person, a person that will fit in well in their society. They are looking for good citizens who have gotten an education outside the classroom. Extra-Curricular activities and community service play a bigger role than students think. This is not only in the admissions process, but in the doling out of aid money as well.
With all facets of the student considered, the more impressed the admissions counselor is, the better chance the student has of being granted a more favorable financial aid package. You want the admissions officer to read your application and think “we need this student on our campus”.
Here are some quick tips to getting more merit based aid:
Start planning early. Having a great high school transcript starts in Freshman Year. It is difficult to recover from a bad marking period, and even more so a bad year.
Plan on having a tutor for standardized tests. Your score depends perhaps more on your test taking ability than your actual knowledge. Spend the time to learn how the test thinks and to make sure you are mentally prepared to sit through a long ordeal and completely focus. Of course, be sure to know the material well.
Choose extra-curricular activities wisely. It is extremely important to excel and show leadership ability in any activity that you choose. Everyone has their own talents and passions. Follow those so you will love the activity and be looked at as a leader. These activities consume time and there aren’t too many scholarships given to the third string. Make sure you are spending your time building a strong resume, not watching from the bench.
Take as many college level classes as you can in high school. You can potentially complete an entire year of college pre-requisite work in high school. At $20,00 to $70,000 plus per year, that can be a hefty savings.
As the sticker prices of colleges continue to sky-rocket, much of this is in your control. All-in-all not much has changed since our parents told us that if we work hard, get good grades and do everything right, we can go to any college we want to. Although cost may seem prohibitive, taking control early will open up opportunities you never thought existed.
Stay tuned for our next installment where we will discuss needs-based aid. Best of luck in your endeavors.