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.
15 “Preparing for College” Must Knows
1. The first thing you need to do when preparing for college is to look-up your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) soon to be called the Student Aid Index. And by “first” I mean NOW! Financial aid formulas don’t care about debt, it’s all about current income. (Use the College Board’s EFC calculator.)
2. Families with incomes of $100,000 or more should expect to pretty much cover the full cost of attending their in-state university. Before you start explaining your expenses, remember that the median household income in the United States is around $69,000. (Look up your state flagship on CollegeNavigator and check the Average Net Price by Income.)
3. The vast majority of students who apply to the most competitive schools such as Stanford and Harvard have grades and test scores as good as your high school’s valedictorian. And the vast majority do not get in.
4. Being a National Merit Scholar does not guarantee a free ride to college.
5. Under no circumstances should parents promise students, “if you get in, we’ll find a way to pay for it.”
6. Over 70% of students are accepted at their first choice college.
7. You are better off with savings for college than without any. Colleges aren’t going to award money just because you haven’t saved any. (See for yourself-vary the amount of savings in the EFC calculator and note how much the EFC changes.)
8. Do not let your students even consider out-of-state public universities unless you can afford to pay the full cost of out-of-state tuition. (Depending on the school, this may be lower than you think because of tuition exchange programs.)
9. In preparing for college, you must set the expectation for acceptable colleges–not the rankings, not your child’s peers, and not your peers.
10. Most athletes do not play at the college level and the majority of those who do are NOT receiving athletic scholarships.
11. Just because you don’t claim your children on your income tax forms will not make them independent students and eligible for more financial aid.
12. There may be millions of “unclaimed scholarships” each year, but the average size is less than $1,000 and for one year only. For most students, the largest scholarship (merit aid) will come from the school they actually attend.
13. The majority of colleges have four-year graduation rates of less than 50%. This means that you are likely to pay more to graduate from some colleges than others.
14. When preparing for college, you shouldn’t base your expectations on another family’s experiences. You don’t know what information was available to the college and you definitely don’t know how that family’s information compared to others applying to the college at the same time.
15. If you find you don’t qualify for financial aid, don’t blame your situation on those that do. The average net price for students with family incomes of $30,000 or less at public schools is $9,120. The average is $19,180 for those with incomes between $75,001 and $110,000. Nobody is getting a free ride to college.
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