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How Much of a College Education Can Your Family Afford?

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Tips to Close the Gap Between Your Income and Expected College Costs

By this point in the academic year, families of high school seniors are done with their college applications. Now, comes the fun part: waiting for acceptance and financial aid letters for final decisions. If your student was accepted during early admission, their decisions are likely made. For students who went the regular application route, the final decision may still be up in the air. By May, everyone will have to make their final commitment, though. One of the key factors in that final decision is how much college your family can afford for your student. So, the gap between your income and expected college costs must be considered. 

Based on your FAFSA filing each potential college send a financial aid package letter to your student. As these letters come in, it’s time to break out the calculator and determine the total expenses involved in that school, and how much financial aid you’ll be eligible to receive. Now, you’ll be able to determine the gap between your EFC and total college costs. 

What does “the gap” mean?

The difference in your EFC and the amount of offered financial aid is called the gap. This is the amount of money your family will have to find to make up that difference. The gap you’ve uncovered will absolutely play a role in your student’s choice of school. While some families may decide to choose the second-choice college (where the financial burden might be less), others may believe their first-choice (and more expensive) school is the best option. If that’s you and/or your student, here are a few ways to reduce the gap: 

How do we close the gap between your income and expected college costs?

Ultimately, closing the gap comes down to your family’s priorities and needs. Here’s six ways you can look to close the gap between your income and expected college costs.

Talk to the College: 

The financial aid office might be willing to take another look at your application. Let them know if there have any major changes in your life that could impact your ability to pay the necessary amount. Make sure to prepare documentation the college may request. This could be changes in income, jobs, or dependents. Ask the college if there are any other ways to pay less money out of pocket.

Look for Scholarships: 

Not all scholarship applications are due in December. There are many types of college scholarships that have deadlines throughout the year. Spend time completing your searches and the applications. Hard work can pay off and you may find some “free” money here. Don’t forget to search locally for scholarships too, based on your student’s interests and background. 

Think Carefully About Private Student Loans: 

Private student loans do not have all the benefits of federal student loans. However, if a school is that important to your student, it may be a potential solution to close the gap. Be sure to agree with your child on payment responsibilities well in advance. 

Ask for Help: 

Family members might be willing to contribute to your student’s college education. Instead of a gift at graduation, create a specific list of financial needs and ask for help in particular areas. Use the money as planned – saving it for books or supplies and/or paying the bills down for your student’s college education. 

Have a Serious Money Talk:

Have the whole family get together and really look for ways to save money, so there will be more available in the college fund. Consider cutting back on car payments, cell phone and data plans, eating out, streaming services, and clothing or other personal budgets. Anything saved goes directly into the college fund. Take the time to talk to your future college student about living on a tight budget, reducing personal expenses, and buying used or electronic books for classes, too. Anywhere that expenses are cut means more money available for to fund a college education. 

Earn More Money: 

Honestly, one solution to the gap problem is to find more money. This might involve second or part-time jobs, selling items online, or holding a family yard sale. If your student has a job, discuss where their paycheck is going and continue to save it for college costs. 

Closing the financial gap to pay for college comes down to being creative and determining the priority of your family and student. Work together to determine the best options for your family’s needs. If your student is a high school junior, consider planning in advance and working to save extra funds now.

Who We Are

CFAA helps with the financial aid process, from completing the FAFSA and completing the CSS Profile to reviewing the SAR, responding to requests for verification, comparing financial aid offers and understanding student loan options. Schedule a CFAA new client free strategy session or a 15 Minute Power Chat to learn more about finding ways to pay for college. To get the latest financial aid information and college application to-do lists, look for my bi-weekly JustAskJodi emails and check out my monthly CFAA e-newsletter.

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