Katie O'Brien
All posts from Katie O'Brien
Katie O'Brien in Senior Content Editor,

5 Tips for College Planning

Image Credit: Flickr

Planning for college can be an overwhelming process. Between applications, FAFSA forms, deadlines, cost and countless other responsibilities to remember, designing a plan for financing college can seem like a never-ending mountain of paperwork and stress.

However, it doesn’t have to be. With the proper tools and organizational strategies, college planning doesn’t have to warrant groans and headaches. Families using the tools available to plan, and using them early, can see major reductions in the cost of their child’s tuition, saving them from the crushing student loan debt plaguing many of the nation’s graduates and their families.

Here are some tips to remember when planning for college:

1. There is no such thing as too early

A majority of students and their parents wait until the child’s junior or senior year of high school to beginning thinking about college, let alone planning. With college coming up in just two years, waiting until now does not leave a sufficient amount of time to plan for such a large investment of $100,000 or $200,000, depending on the school.

Begin planning during the student’s freshman year of high school. This allows the family four years to consider price range, financial aid options and how the family will be able to afford the cost while still managing the payment of other huge investments like their home mortgage or retirement funds.

2. Do your homework

Researching the family’s financial aid options is crucial to getting the maximum amount of aid deserved. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must be completed annually, beginning the student’s senior year of high school. Because of this, it’s important to understand that if the family’s financial circumstances change while the child is still in college, dropping out should not be the first route. Contact the college’s financial aid department and speak with the financial aid director. Most schools offer some sort of appeals process that can make adjustments to the student’s tuition costs, making the payments more affordable if a parent loses their job or any other negative financial circumstance.

3. Private colleges often cost less than public

It is not uncommon for students and parents to rule out the possibility of private universities due to preconceived cost assumptions. Although the sticker prices of these colleges are high, private universities often give out merit-based scholarships regardless of financial circumstances. Often the price of a private institution with included merit-based scholarships is significantly lower than public schools. Researching these costs beforehand could mean the difference between loads of debt from a state school and a more affordable education from a private.

4. Negotiate your financial aid

You wouldn’t buy a car without negotiating the price first, right? Well, the same principle can be applied to college financial aid.

A large misconception about financial aid packages is that they are final. However, the amount of aid a family receives for their child’s education is not set in stone and should be negotiated. If the student is accepted into more than one school, particularly similar schools that may be located in the same area or have competing programs, the family may be in a good position to begin negotiating these numbers.

Further, it’s important to remember that including financial aid, the student may be eligible for merit-based aid and scholarships.

5. Higher education is crucial in a competitive job market

In an increasingly competitive job market, it is vital for individuals to obtain a bachelor’s degree in order to succeed in the industry they are passionate about. The investment the students and family make in education will be the most important investment they make because, in most circumstances, it ensures their child’s future.

Information from The Sallie Mae FundDaily Finance and The College Planning Experts.