Campus tours. Standardized tests. Applications. More campus tours. Admission interviews. Eight letters. Five rejections. Three acceptances. You’re in. Your dream school — and a few safety schools — accepted you. Now that you’re past the hard part, getting in, it’s time for you and your parents to take a hard look at your financial situation. Right?
Along with the uncertainty of the college application process, there’s often a big question mark when it comes to financial planning. According to a multi-year study lasting from 2010-2015, only 23 percent of students surveyed used counseling for help on paying for college. While there’s no official date to start planning, experts like David Levy of Edvisors and Gail Grand of TheCollegeAdvisor agree that you shouldn’t wait until that first college acceptance letter to ask, “Can we afford this?”
- If you’re currently in the college decision process and have only just started financial planning, don’t worry. You can still effectively weigh your options and their affordability. If you’re only beginning to think about applying to college, start considering your financial situation now.
- One way financial and college advisors recommend giving yourself a shot at college affordability: Submit a FAFSA application.
- “The biggest mistake I see is that students do not apply for financial aid,” Levy said.
The free application for federal student aid allows you to be considered for financial assistance from the federal government to help cover the costs of college. According to Levy, many families don’t fill out the FAFSA because they assume their income automatically disqualifies them from receiving aid. However, FAFSA states on its website that most students are eligible to receive some aid, and that while income is considered, it is not automatically disqualifying. Additionally, don’t wait until you’re accepted into your dream school before submitting your FAFSA. The application for the 2017-2018 school year became available October 1st, 2016 and remains open until June 30th, 2018. However, some federal programs have limited funding, so procrastinating on filling out the FAFSA could literally cost you.
While filling out the FAFSA is an important step to potentially receiving aid, you need to be realistic about the affordability of your top choice schools.
“Families need to factor in the cost of college when they’re actually creating that list,” Grand said.
Grand recommends utilizing your prospective school’s net price calculator, a tool which allows students and families to estimate the cost of attending a specific institution after subtracting scholarships and grants. According to a 2015 college decision survey, only 10% of students used a net price calculator to find out more about their school’s financial aid. Whether you have only just started the college search or you’re deciding between acceptance letters, check out available resources before counting anything out (or in).
However, don’t automatically disqualify a campus you love because of a high cost estimation. If your dream school has the potential to lead you to a high-paying career, it might be worth it to go into debt. However, both Levy and Grand advise borrowing no more than you have the potential to earn your first year out of college. Websites like Payscale and Glassdoor offer services that can estimate your expected salary in the field you’re considering pursuing. While there’s no guarantee of your future salary, you can get an idea if it’s practical to borrow $80,000 for a degree that leads to a starting salary of $30,000.
Even with net price calculators and salary estimates, there’s no magic formula that will tell you which school will end up paying off in the long run. As important as it is to be financially responsible, it’s also important to attend a school where you will thrive academically and professionally. So fill out the FAFSA. Estimate your expected family contribution. Calculate your possibly salary in four years. Apply for as many scholarships as you can. But remember the initial feeling of excitement you got when you stepped on a certain campus. Balancing a passion for a school with responsible financial planning can ensure you get the most out of those high tuition costs.
Lead Image Credit: Pexels