Sticker shock can be a real “wow” moment when parents first consider the costs of sending their child to college. All-in costs — including tuition, room & board, books and incidentals — can range from about $15,000 to over $60,000 annually.
Take a deep cleansing breath. Exhale. Have a seat. Take another deep breath and begin thinking strategically.
Full college retail price can be financially intimidating, but you can bring your costs down over time depending on your financial situation. Here are eight useful tips:
1. Scholarships: Not Just For Brainiacs
The first and easiest way to reduce costs is to have your child apply for scholarships. Thousands of scholarships exist and you may be surprised at some of the qualifications. For example, unique opportunities exist for left-handed people, those under 5-feet-tall, Eagle Scouts, etc. Besides the individual colleges and universities, community organizations and companies offer scholarships. Have your child search the internet, speak with a high school counselor about local scholarships and look for niche organizations that match a specific talent or skill that your child has.
2. Financial Aid and The Full Monty
Be prepared to bare all, financially speaking, as you navigate through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. It doesn't take long to realize that there is nowhere to hide your assets. You will even link your application to your tax forms filed with the IRS. Understand that you will provide a very accurate financial picture to up to 10 colleges/universities. But that's OK. At least you know that everyone is playing by the same rules and the playing field is level. The amount of financial aid your child qualifies for will be determined by your household financials.
FAFSA forms need to be completed each college year and for each child you have in college. It's also critical you fill out these forms as early as possible because in some states, aid is on a first-come, first-served basis.
3. Become Besties With the Bursar
Get to know on a first-name basis the person in the Financial Aid office who is reviewing your child's financial aid package. Reach out to her or him and ask for more aid — either through grants, scholarships or other assistance. Leave your pride in another room. Asking for an extra $1,000 or more can be worth it. But remember, genuine kindness and gratitude go a lot further than making demands.
4. Negotiate With a Competitive Offer
Another tip for undecided high school seniors: Where possible, pit one college against another. If Acme U is offering a great financial package, but you really want to attend Zenith U, let Zenith know it will take a few more greenbacks to win you over. Remember, the goal of a college, especially smaller ones, is to fill the seats. Your goal is to get the best value for your child's education at a school that best fits his or her career interests.
5. Bypass the Campus Bookstore
A new chemistry book for $321? Before you plunk down the plastic, ask your college if books can be rented or buy used books. You may find great deals with online booksellers like Amazon and Chegg.
6. Don't Get Stuffed With the Meal Plan
Your first semester freshman will want the maximum (typically 19) cafeteria-served meals. They most likely will not eat that many in the dining hall so colleges have gotten smart and allow students to use some of the “points” or meals in the dorm kiosks. You may want to reduce the meal plan in second semester to save money, especially if your child has work study or another part-time job.
7. Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, it's Off to Work I Go
Have your child take full advantage of the federal work-study program. Typically menial jobs, students can work a set amount of hours per week, determined by your school and the Financial Aid award.
8. One Point Can Earn $1,000
Many colleges will give a student an extra $1,000 scholarship for every point over a 25 on the College ACT exam. If your student is scoring in and above that score, it may pay to retake the exam to try and earn some more scholarship money. Some of these scholarships are for a single year and others for up to four years of undergraduate matriculation.
While the academic pressures of college can be intimidating for students, there are ways to reduce costs and maximize different aid mechanisms, leaving the “wow” factor for graduation day.
Parents: How are you dealing with college costs?