Since the beginning of their lives, young people have been groomed for college. Years are spent preparing them to get into the best schools. Then it happens – college application time. While students are focused on tweaking their application essays, many parents are secretly wondering how they are going to pay for the college experience if their student gets accepted. Then the day comes when the email arrives announcing their child is in and all the parents have to do to secure a coveted spot is send in a deposit. Who could have foreseen that their young prodigy would qualify to go to a $50,000 -$60,000 a year school?
“How much are we going to have to pay?” parents wonder. A wonderful piece of federal legislation now makes that answer somewhat accessible by requiring all schools to include a Net Price Calculator on their websites. The calculator’s basic function is to take a snapshot of the families financial strength using the FAFSA information and then provide you with an idea of what grants, scholarships, and other aid will be available to the student as well as what the expected family contribution will be. While not 100% accurate, it does give an idea of what lies ahead.
Anyone who is looking for money for college may find opportunities in three different places: at the colleges themselves, with the government, and in the private arena. All three of these doors usually require the FAFSA form be filled out to gain entrance. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and here is the real website: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. (there are some fake FAFSA websites that require payment) This application requires a PIN number and your current tax information. Once this application is completed, parents can send it to the colleges your student is interested in attending. The college will give you an idea of what financial package is out there for you based the information you provided.
So let’s talk about each of these 3 areas where money might be found individually:
1. The Government. Federal and State Aid, or aid from the government, generally comes in the two forms of grants and loans. Grants do not need to be paid back and loans do with interest. It is my experience that if your family earns very little money, then you may qualify for a Pell Grant. Pell Grants do not need to be paid back but do go to the most financially challenged people. Government loans can also be provided and they tend to have lower interest rates than commercial loans. These do need to be paid back starting roughly 6 months after graduation.
2. The Schools. Because of the love of their alumni, many places have endowments. These endowments are often funneled into scholarships to attract top talent. The students who get school’s scholarships will most often be the students who exceed the schools minimum entrance standards. For example, UNC has the Morehead Scholarship. This is actually a fully funded program that attracts students from all over the world and does not take into account financial need. The students who get this scholarship are often one’s who could consider admission to UNC a safe bet. They are tops in their classes, have exceptional test scores, and are already accomplished in some area. The best scholarships are available to students who exceed the school’s incoming student averages.
Schools will also offer their own loans and financial aid packages. In a recent interview with a New York University admissions representative she disclosed that many students work 2 to 3 separate jobs to pay part of their tuition. Many schools use work-study programs as a means of paying for one’s education. After a student’s freshman year, there are also Resident Life opportunities which typically cover board.
3. Private money. Scholarships such as the National Merit monies and employer scholarships can add up to a significant chunk of change as well. For more information on the National Merit Scholarships click here. In addition local Rotary Clubs, Civic Clubs, families, companies, state employee’s credit unions, and other organizations can provide separate opportunities. Most schools have some type of database or running list of scholarship opportunities for their students. Click here for an example of that type of list from East Chapel Hill High School. As you go through this list you will see there are scholarship opportunities available to all grade levels.
In addition there are private loans. These tend to have a higher interests rate than government loans but have different criteria for consideration. Many students use a combination of government and private loans. If a student is looking for money for graduate school, government loans are not available so these are your only option.
In a radio interview I did with Financial Aid guru David Galinas of Davidson College, he talks about all of these different venues for getting money as well as how things work behind the scenes. To listen to David’s wisdom click here. He shares that one of the most important and informative resources for people in the state of North Carolina is www.cfnc.org. This website also has great career info information regardless of your age. For those who have lots of loans, there is another great piece of legislation which makes it so a person’s educational loans do not exceed about 10 percentage of their overall income. In talking to a woman who once owed over half of her monthly income in loans, this program has been a real blessing but you have to apply.
After all is said and done, the bottom line is that a family must decide what financial arrangement they are comfortable with and how much money they want to spend on their child’s education. There is no right or wrong place to attend college. Every college is different but all colleges want the same thing; they want students who want to be at their schools. One of the best ways to get a school to open up its resources to your family is to let them know they are your student’s first choice and mean it. Like people, colleges are susceptible to well-placed flattery and love to be loved.