There is one question we all face at various points in life – “Can we afford it?” In the adult world these questions often revolve around big decisions like whether a family can afford a new home, a new car, a baby, or later on – retirement. For the high school senior, however, the big question is whether your family can help pay for college.
You might have your heart set on a specific school for some reason – it’s in a great location, your friends are all going there, or it’s a renowned school for the major you want to pursue. Those are all valid reasons, but you really have to try to balance the financial costs for you and your family against the benefits to you of attending this particular college. If you don’t know whether you can afford to pursue this particular dream, then here are the college financial planning steps you can take to help you and your parents make a decision that is good for everyone.
1. Apply to a few colleges: You want to have a college application list that includes a “reach” school, a few “target” schools that match your criteria, and at least one safety school. While you should be aware of costs at the various schools, don’t make any final decisions until you get accepted and receive your financial aid award packages.
2. Apply for financial aid: Don’t make assumptions about whether or not your family qualifies for financial aid. Fill out the FAFSA, the CSS Profile, or whatever financial aid application each college uses so you can receive a definite answer from each one about how much money you can receive. After you complete the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR, which will give you a rough idea of your Expected Family Contribution, but this may still not be the final amount you pay.
3. Search for scholarships: Apply for as many scholarships as possible. This is a form of “free” money that can go a long way towards covering your college costs.
4. Compare financial aid offers: Each college that accepts your application will send you a financial aid offer package. This is when you can really start comparing the out-of-pocket costs to you and your family. Compare the total cost of attending each college against how much they are willing to give you in the form of grants and scholarships. Don’t forget to add in extraneous amounts like travel and cost-of-living expenses. Remember that some offers may include federal student loans as part of the total package. Keep in mind that you or your parents will have to repay this money at some point in the future.
5. Compare what it will cost against how much you have to spend: If you calculate that it will cost $10,000 out of pocket each semester for you to attend a particular college, but your family can only afford $7,000, you have to think about where that extra money can be found. Some relatives might be willing to help, you might have to work part-time during your college career, or you might have to borrow the money. Think about whether the academic and emotional benefits are worth the cost.
6. Check out student loans: If you still think it is important for you to attend a particular college, you might want to consider taking out private student loans in addition to your federal student loans. Some student loan lenders, like College Ave Student Loans, have very competitive loan options and rates. Plus, they have even make it simple to apply – it only takes about three minutes on a laptop or mobile device . You’ll get an instant decision so you’ll immediately know where you stand.
Be sure to look at long-term financial picture if you take out any student loans, either from the federal government or a private loan lender. Make sure you graduate with a job that will pay you sufficient money to be able to cover your monthly loan payments, as well as meet your future standard of living. By gathering all the facts, you can definitely determine whether you can afford college.