In case you haven’t heard, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for 2021-22 is available on October 1st. That means that it’s time for high school seniors to collect all their documents so they can fill out the FAFSA. Why? Because you will need to have submitted the FAFSA to be eligible for financial aid awarded by the federal government, colleges, and many states. And the sooner, the better. While filling out the FAFSA isn’t the key to great financial aid, it is a necessary step.
Parents of sophomores need to know that their students’ college financial aid awards will be calculated on the base year that starts January 1 of the student’s sophomore year. This means that the fall semester of the student’s sophomore year will be the last chance parents have to implement some financial aid strategies that could significantly increase their student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid.
We have all heard the horror stories of college graduates with staggering debt and little hope of repaying it before retiring. The obvious cause of the problem is the seemingly ever-increasing cost of college.
But here’s the thing. When you read the stories about graduates struggling with student loans after graduation, you’ll almost always see that they had alternatives to the large student loans they ended up with. With the high cost of college, more than ever teens need their parents to provide financial guidance when applying to college. Unfortunately, rather than supplying a financial reality check, too many parents make the situation worse by doing the following:
As the parents of college freshmen drove home from dropping their kids off at college, many had to be thinking about how they’ll do things differently next time knowing what they know now. Many were probably wishing, “if only someone had told me four years ago when we first started thinking about preparing for college that…, things would have been so much easier.” It’s a common dilemma in life, you don’t know what you don’t know. So I’ve created the following list of things that parents of high school freshmen need to know about preparing for college and how financial aid works. Let me know if you have anything to add.
The internet is a wonderful thing, you can find the answer to just about any question including “what is financial aid?” The problem is that are usually so many answers that it’s overwhelming and it’s almost as bad as not knowing the answer at all. So here are five ways for learning about financial aid without wading through page after page of search.
There are two major delusions/misconceptions about paying for college that too many parents have. The first is that by not saving for college, parents claim this will make their kids eligible for more financial aid. Why bother saving if it means they won’t get any financial aid? This falls into the delusional category. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt but I can’t help but think this has more to do with preferring to spend money now rather than saving for later. Oh, FYI, financial aid doesn’t work that way.
(Updated for 2020) This is a public service I’m providing as an inoculation against the annual fall media college ranking mania. It is a reminder that rankings are flawed and have their limitations. While they can provide useful information, too few people bother to look beyond the ranking order to evaluate the data used in creating the rankings.
To get an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at the following list of the 10 worst colleges (yes, there are more than 10 because of ties):
(Updated for 2020) I’ve reviewed multiple college search websites and searching by size is always an option. Size is probably one of the first limitations students use when searching for colleges, often based on little to no real experience or evidence. And if you’re interested in getting the best college financial aid possible, this is a big mistake.
Too many people think that your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is something that you worry about when you apply for financial aid–if they have heard the term at all. And if you’re a family with high school students thinking about college, it’s definitely a term you should become familiar with immediately. Why? Because what you don’t know about your EFC can hurt you long before you even start to fill-out college application forms.