I’ve spent much of this fall criss-crossing the country speaking to various groups– families, financial advisors, high school groups– about planning for college. It’s been a genuine privilege to be welcomed by so many people in so many places! Whatever the audience, these are the key elements in planning for college:
- College is available at every price point. When you save for college, you create more choices for your child because more price points become available when savings is added to your ability to pay out of pocket and through borrowing. If you’re not able to save, look for pathways like free community college, employer-based tuition partnerships and your state’s financial aid programs.
- If college is important to your family, be disciplined and intentional with savings. Set up a monthly contribution to your 529 and increase it as circumstances allow. Take advantage of state tax breaks, gifting pages and other 529 tools to maximize your savings.
- There’s a scholarship for every student, but not necessarily at every college. Know what you’re eligible for— need or merit— and apply to colleges that offer that type of scholarship. Outside scholarships can help close gaps, but the big dollars come from the colleges themselves.
- Choosing the colleges you apply to is more important than strategizing for the FAFSA if you’re trying to get scholarships. The FAFSA doesn’t guarantee you scholarships at the college of your choice; every college makes its own decision about whether and to what degree to fund need-based financial aid. Most scholarship money comes from the colleges themselves, not from federal student aid programs. Use net price calculators to get a sense of whether a college will offer you need-based scholarships; even if they’re not yet updated for FAFSA Simplification, you’ll still get a good sense of how generous or stingy the college is.
- College planning is equal parts financial planning and parenting. Parents need to discuss college expectations and budget with their kids. Focusing on goals– “We want you to graduate from college without student loans, and we’ve saved enough to make that possible here. We’ll support you in finding alternatives, too”– rather than constraints– “We can only afford to send you in-state so don’t bother looking elsewhere”– positions you as your student’s partner in their college application and selection journey. Be age-appropriate, and be the parent.
- “Why college” is more important than “which college.” Good outcomes have more to do with how you go to college than where you go to college.
I’m happy to speak to your group too! If you’re interested, leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch.