Sitting down and thinking about how you’re going to pay for college is never a fun activity, but unless you’re in a very small minority of very wealthy people, it’s a task that must be done. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
• Have you (and your child) researched the cost of attendance at the colleges s/he is interested in?
• Are you prepared to cover all college costs?
• Are you planning to apply for need based financial aid?
• Are you specifically interested in colleges that offer merit scholarships?
• Will the cost of attendance will be a factor in where our child goes to college?
• Have you discussed the role of finances in college choice with our child?
The answers to the first five questions will determine which colleges your child should apply to. Some colleges will make financial sense to you as a family, and some will not. The last question is designed to encourage conversation.
As you undoubtedly know, there are a number of ways to finance a college education, most commonly, grants or scholarships, loans, and self-help. At most colleges, the cost of educating a student for a year is substantially more than the amount charged in tuition and fees. And yet, for most families, the comprehensive cost at a private college exceeds an amount that they are able to pay. Fortunately, these other financing tools help to fill some of the gap.
Consider talking with your student about the financial ramifications to their college search. At this early stage, you shouldn’t eliminate colleges from consideration based solely on cost; as a parent, there is nothing worse than dashing your child’s dreams. At the same time, however, an honest discussion during the planning phase is far better than seeing the joy on a child’s face after receiving an acceptance letter and dulling it with financial concerns about which he or she was previously unaware.