The college application process can sometimes seem like an exaggerated roller coaster ride. With the early FAFSA now available in October, high school students and their parents engage in an upward climb to finish their college and financial aid applications. It reaches a climactic high in December for some students who receive their acceptance notices under early decision or early action timeframes, and then feels like a quick downhill crash as all the frantic activities come to a jarring halt.
While the period from January through the May final decision deadlines was once full of FAFSA concerns, it may now seem like there is nothing much left to do. But it could be a dangerous assumption for families to let their guard down and relax before making the final decision about which college to attend. Here are a few things you can do to keep the financial aid carousel moving during the period between acceptance and attendance:
• Rethink the financial aid offers: If your student has not committed to a specific college with an early decision application, make sure you spend the time necessary to review and understand the various financial aid offers you received. Find out how many freshmen actually graduate from each college in four years, and look at whether the financial aid package extends through the entire process. Calculate your estimated out-of-pocket expenses including travel and daily living costs to determine exactly how much money you will need to spend. Be aware of just how much it costs to send a child to college
• Calculate your cash flow obligations: Most colleges will provide a schedule of payments for their costs, but be sure to take into consideration your other expenses as well. You may need to spend additional money the first year to outfit a dorm room or off-campus apartment, buy a vehicle, upgrade a data plan, or cover any of the numerous smaller outlays that go into getting a child ready for college. Make sure you have enough money available to cover everything.
• Determine if you need to borrow any money: If you cannot meet all of your cash flow needs, then you might have to borrow money through federal or private student loans. Learn about your rights and responsibilities, and make sure you research your options completely before signing on the dotted line.
• Look for scholarships: Keep looking for scholarships that might help you reduce your out-of-pocket expenditures.
• Create a budget: Work with your student to develop a budget that will outline exactly how much money you are willing to provide to cover college and daily expenses. If your child thinks more money will be needed, talk about summer or campus employment opportunities.
When it comes to paying for college, there never really is a “down” time. If thought about, and planned for properly, however, your family can eliminate the ups and downs of the financial aid roller coaster so you will experience a much smoother ride to college.