Paying for College/ Financial Aid
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Paying for College/ Financial Aid
We just submitted our FAFSA and CSS and the initial email
we received back is that we can be expected to contribute
37,000 (of 50k+) a year towards our daughters tuition.
That's 28% of our income. My question is in the end can we
expect more help from the schools or is this accurate?
It depends. I think FAFSA is a farce as Bay Area folks are concerned, since
it seems to look almost entirely at income and not, for example, at how much
you might be paying on a mortgage. If your daughter gets accepted at a school
with a healthy endowment, you definitely have a chance of some assistance.
For us (this was a few years ago), both Harvard and Dartmouth were willing to
look at exactly how much was left on a monthly basis after mortgage/property
taxes were taken into account, and both offered enough aid to make the cost
(not counting air fare a couple times a year, which adds up) comparable with
attending UC (which wouldn't offer any aid at all, so we were looking at full
fare there). Seemed pretty fair to me. It has still meant a bit of
belt-tightening, but nowhere near what the FAFSA estimates would have expected
of us. All you can do is ask. In my experience, the financial aid folks
really are interested in helping. They're not your adversaries in any sense.
Just wanted to note that many parents can't come up with the financial aid
''Family Contribution'' just out of their income, but also use savings and
loans to bridge the gap. Also, you may find some colleges will offer better
aid packages than others. Wait to get all the offers, compare, and keep an
I am a single mom with three girls, 15 and under, and am
about to get married for the second time. He has two grown kids.
I am a financial neanderthal and need both recommendations
and guidance on how to begin planning. If I had 1000 dollars
I would go to a CPA but I don't.
Neither us owns a house. We have some retirement, but that
is about it.
I understand there are more drawbacks than benefits for
marriage, financially speaking. My biggest concern is
financial aid for my kids when they go to college. He makes
about 150K. I make 100K. I was told that if we get married,
even if we have a pre-nup, and he does not adopt my kid and
even if he will NOT pay for my kids college, colleges will
consider his tax returns anyway. Thoughts?
We can have a wedding ceremony in front of family, friends
and our god but I certainly don't have to register it with
the government, do I? What am I giving up I don't? Who
should I talk to, what books should I read, and what would
you do? Am I being silly?
Thank you much,
smarter the second time
Talk to a financial aid counselor at a nearby college for current
advice. I used to work in financial and at that time, the
step-parents' income was considered when calculating parent
contribution. That was part of the federal formula and I think it
probably still is. The federal formula will determine eligibility
for federal aid (subsidized loans, Pell, etc.) and many but by no
means all colleges follow it to a large extent in their own
It's that time of year when our senior is about to fill out college
applications. But we're having an issue about expectations. Of course, our
teen wants to go away to a 4-year state college. Unfortunately, with a
younger teen in the household, we can't afford for both of them to go away
4 years. We can afford community college and then the last 2 years away.
And we're both in our late 50's and with 20 years left on our mortgage, we
are very reluctant to add more debt. And we make too much money to qualify
for aid. What makes it difficult for our teen is watching all the other
kids apply to schools away.
I understand your dilemma -- we encourage our children to do their best
and to explore, only to worry about economic realities later. I would
suggest that you talk with your senior openly, and then try to find
another alternative. Some private schools may actually turn out to be
less expensive for you than state schools, because they have more money
for need-based aid and may also have money for merit-based aid. By
applying to schools where he/she would be in the top of the applicant
pool, it may be possible to get a significant amount of money (maybe
costing less over 4 years than 2 years at a state school and 2 at a
community college). Also, schools in the middle of the country (Ohio,
Wisconsin, Iowa, etc.) may have trouble getting students from California,
so they may throw some money at your teen as well.
A good college counselor at your teen's school should be able to let you
know if your teen's academic record would make this a possibility, and
also should be able to steer you to some of these schools. Also, look at
the school's web sites for info on merit-based aid; some will tell you
that if you have a GPA of X and SATs of Y you qualify for $Z...
Finally, were I in this situation, I would tell my child that getting
into school wouldn't mean he/she could go, but that a generous aid
package would be necessary. And if my teen doesn't mind completing an
application knowing that money might prevent her from going, I'd support
that. (Some teens many feel it's not worth the application effort,
Another 2012 mom
I would venture to say that you don't really know what you can afford, as
you can't possibly have done the FAFSA yet. That's the one-stop financial
aid application and I think it's too early for you to have done it. You
might be eligible for quite decent financial aid--who knows? Our income
is lousy due to the economy, and my daughter at UCSC received full
financial aid last year, plus an extra $2,000/quarter which she used for
rent/food. I did an MA in creative writing a few years ago, before I got
so broke, and received financial aid for that (a Cal grant). Also, when
you have two kids in college your financial aid will go up. And, my
ex-husband's good income (plus that of his wife) isn't counted--you only
have to count one family. There are a bunch of things at play that you
won't know until you check them out. http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/
Before you just decide that it's got to be community college plus a
four-year college, do your research. The cost of CSUs has gone up but it
isn't that bad. Also, give your kid(s) some options. Why can't they go to
a four-year CSU in SoCal, etc.? If financial aid covers some of the cost,
they can work to support themselves for the rest. Or they can choose to
take out student loans in their own names. This is their life. If they
want to go away, they can work towards it. It will be character building.
I guess your email struck a nerve, as I feel you're dismissing the
options without knowing anything about them. I think it's because 25
years ago when I was in high school, I assumed my parents were too middle
class for us to get financial aid, but too broke to pay for much. I went
to the nearby CSU and lived at home, never applying for financial aid or
any other schools. Well, my parents were broke enough, plus I scored in
the 98th percentile in the SATs, that I could have certainly gotten
financial aid. No one in my life cared enough to think bigger for me. My
life wasn't ruined or anything, but how different would it have been if
I'd gone away to school?
start big and adjust plans only when necessary
You didn't really pose a question, but I assume you are asking for advice
on what you should tell your son? How about that he does not have a
Constitutional right to a college education paid for by his parents. You
also have an obligation to be careful with your money for retirement so
your children don't end up having to support you. Perhaps he has to take
a year off to work and save up, perhaps he has to go to community college
as you suggest, perhaps he has to apply for loans and scholarships. Is
he academically motivated? I just read the 45% of students do not
graduate from college and are left with debt and poor job prospects. We
have been saving since our children were born. With the poor market of
the last 10-15 years, it has not generated as big of a nest egg as I
would like. I plan to let each child know what is in their account and
then they will have to make it work. It will probably be enough for four
years of careful spending at a state school or possibly a UC if living at
home. If they choose to go to Stanford (assuming they could get in!),
then they will have to figure out financing. I also think this approach
is overall more ''fair'', assuming you have similarly motivated and able
children. I recently heard of an acquaintance whose one child informed
his parents that they would owe him the difference between the cost of
his state university and his siblings' much more expensive private
school. Um....no. And by the way, those friends who are applying to far
away schools first have to be admitted and then find a way to pay if for
themselves. I would think you can (and should) always apply to keep your
options open, as there may be a way to work out the money issues if your
son is admitted to where he wants to go. Good luck!
If one or both of your children get good grades, good test scores, and
does well on some AP classes, then you should consider a 4 year college
that is slightly less competitive. These types of private colleges LOVE
to get higher ranking students (as it raises their ranking too) and will
give big merit scholarships to kids they really want. My son received one
for $14,000 per year. Don't think of this as a second tier choice, your
child can get a great education schools like this.
Community college can be a good academic alternative to 4 year college.
It is true, though, that learning in college takes place not only in
class but from the amazing range of people one meets and from the
experience of living away. I do not know if your teen has considered
carrying loans himself, $5500 freshman year and $6500 sophomore year,
which could defray the cost of living away at school. Then too, a summer
job can also provide money towards the cost of living at college. My
college freshman made $3000 this past summer. So, with loan money and her
summer salary, her own money towards the dorm was $8500. She is also
working this year, 10 hours a week, again her contribution to living
costs, which will mean that she is paying to live at college and not me.
Talk to your teen and see what he is willing to do, with work and with
good for you for being realistic about what is possible. you should sit
down with your kids and explain exactly what you have saved for each of
them. lots of kids get into ridiculous debt and i would talk to your
kids about how difficult/undesirable that would be.
it is possible to attend community college in another part of the state?
i know santa monica community college is popular. do you have
friends/family who they could live with (so at least they aren't living
Let your child apply now to some state and UC schools. Make them be
responsible for looking into scholarships-there are many out there even
if you are not an A student.Students can also work and borrow money
through the school under their own name. My children really benefitted
from going to a 4 year school. They met more intellectual students and it
matured them in a good way.If you do decide to take out any parent loans
you can take out an extended loan and have 20 years to pay it back at a
low amount.My daughters father died recently and his loans were cancelled
because he died. (This was the Direct Loan program you can find out about
through the schools.)If your child ends up teaching in a low income
school for several years their loan is forgiven as well.
Our family is in a very similar situation. We just found out about a
consulting firm that offers free introductory workshops in various
locations in the Bay area for parents to address this very topic. You can
check out the workshops offered on their website at:
Their promotional materials say,''We'll discuss everything from the
greatest myths about the college process, to how to send your student to
a fancy private school for less than the cost of a junior college...it'll
be like learning how to get a new Lexus for the price of a used pick-up
truck.'' We haven't attended a workshop yet but we're eager to find out how to make this process as painless
as possible. Best of luck!
If I refinance my home (putting aside the fact that this may not be the smart
thing to do) to get money out for college, is there a limit on how much of the
interest is deductible?
For Regular tax, interest on up-to-$100k of principal borrowed will
be deductible, as long as the loan is secured by your home. This is
the $100k overall limit for such borrowing, secured by your home and
NOT used directly to purchase your home or to construct permanent
improvements to your home. If you previously borrowed and have not
yet repaid, or any other non-home-purchase-or-improvement uses, the
$100k limit will be applied to the total such loans outstanding.
For Alternative Minimum Tax (''AMT''), none of this interest will be
deductible. For AMT, only interest on a loan secured by your home and
used directly to purchase your home or to construct permanent
improvements to your home, is deductible. No other mortgage interest
will be deductible.
Individuals pay the larger of their Regular tax or AMT amount.
We are strapped for cash and my stepchild will be starting college
next year. Can anyone tell me about student aid loans designed for
parents to pay their childrens' college costs? And if anyone
happens to know, can one use these loans toward child support
payments to cover room & board & tuition? Thanks.
See the website
for information on PLUS loans for parents. In order to get a
PLUS loan, the student and family must complete the FAFSA so
now is the time to do that. The PLUS loan can cover room and
board costs. but how this ties in with child support payments
is a question for your lawyer.
My 17 yr old AHS senior is applying to colleges right now. He is
applying to public and private schools. I have had full custody
(physical and legal) of him since he was 6 yrs old. About 2 yrs ago
Dad started paying child support- $500/ month. Dad earns about 85K a
year and I earn about 90K. Dad just informed me that he has no
plans to pay for college beyond the current $500/ month. I am
incredibly frustrated but here is my question. When one applies for
financial aid-can I explain that I am the sole provider even though
Dad actually earns decent money? Will they believe me? I know that
once child is 18 he is not required to pay anything and we don't
have a legal agreement about college. I don't want my son to waste
time/ money applying to places that we know we cannot afford or that
we won't get any financial aid. Additional information-have another
child college bound in 2 yrs as well. Thanks in advance for your
advice and/or personal experiences in this area.
This is so frustrating, and I have heard the same story so many times.
A good friend of mine went to school supported by his mom and utterly
ignored by his well-to-do Dad, though the financial aid office counted
dad's income. Argh. Outcome: friend does not speak to dad. You
might ask your son's dad if he would enjoy that outcome, because kids
at 17 and up are completely aware of how they are being cheated by
parents. And I would see a lawyer. I don't know about child support
after 18 (it stops then, ordinarily, I think), but it would be worth
it to see if you have any legal recourse. And thanks for the heads-up
-- I may be in a similar situation in about five years, so I need to
talk to a lawyer too.
tired of jerky, selfish dads
For the teen who wants to go to college, parents divorced & needs
Apply to whatever colleges you want to go to, and don't worry how
much they cost. Financial aid is not just a cut-and-dried figure; it
depends on many factors. Some colleges only count the custodial
parent's income; others need financial information from both parents
(even if only 1 is paying for college). Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and
to www.collegeboard.com to get more information about the financial
aid process. On collegeboard.com, type in ''CSS Profile'' and ''IDOC''
These are both more extensive financial aid applications that some
colleges require).Some private colleges will provide quite generous
scholarships because they have endowments. Getting these
scholarships depend on good SAT scores and good GPA's; not just
parent's income. Tell your child to keep up their grades, study hard
and get good SAT scores. Apply to 7 or 8 colleges, so that when the
acceptance letters start rolling in, you will be able to make a
decision based on where you want to go and what is the best fit for
you. Good luck!
DC parent of a college freshman
Even if you were claiming just your salary, you would not be eligible
for any state or federal grants. The best to hope for are sponsored
student loans, which have a lower interest rate. Be glad for that
$500 a month from dad. It will cover 1/2 of your child's room and
board at a state school. If your child is a talented writer, artist
or very good in a sport, there is a hope of getting a scholarship, but
none of the young men or women my daughter graduated with received a
sports scholarship. Some of the small liberal arts or Christian
colleges in the mid-west came through with scholarships and grants.
My daughter has friends going to school in WI, IA and OK. She's at
Humboldt and very happy we can afford the tuition with what we saved
and what we earn. Yes, it would have been fun to see if she could get
into Sarah Lawrence or Lewis & Clark, but I think it would have
disappointed her when we couldn't afford $50,000 a year. Good luck to
you and your son.
You need Frances Fee. She is a financial
expert and was an incredible force counseling
me so that I was able to obtain the aid I needed,
each year. She knows all about how a divorce
impacts financial aid. Her fees are very reasonable.
I just can't rave enough about her. You can reach her at
A very grateful mother
You need to talk to a professional. I suggest Paul Wrubel. Paul R
Wrubel & Associates
411 Borel Ave, San Mateo, CA 94402-3522
p: 650 349 4200
Your ex husbands income is considered too. Actually his new wifes
income may be considered too. The FAFSA and The Common Application
may be both required for some schools. Only the common ap for some
and only the FAFSA for some including the UCs. I have one son who
just graduated from UCSD and a Jr at a private school in Ohio. He is
applying to the United States Naval Academy. If he gets in I am done
with FAFSA and the Common Ap. Hurray! I have got through the last
five years of dealing with financial aid only due to the help of
Paul Wrubel. www.tuitioncoach.com
How does a single mom with two middle school aged sons, with
no college fund, minimal retirement savings, even begin to
think about paying for any part of college when tuition is
so astronomical? I am a teacher and my children have gone
to academically rigorous independent schools since K with
significant financial aid due to my faculty position. Now
that college is around the corner, I am panicked. I do not
want them to start off their adult lives saddled with
thousands in loans, but want every possible educational
opportunity for them. Any advice or words of wisdom welcome.
financially challenged mom
It is stressful to think about the cost of college, and
you should think about engaging a consultant about this as
your sons get toward their junior year in high school.
But here are a few thoughts: if your sons are strong
students or strong student athletes, there are scholarship
opportunities. I was the child of parents who had four
children and really couldn't afford to pay for college for
any of them. I applied to public institutions with
relatively modest costs and a couple of private
institutions with astronomical costs. And guess what?
The wealthy private institutions also had the $$ for
scholarship funds, and I got a full ride at one of them.
It ended up costing significantly less than a public
institution would have. So if your sons are strong
students or athletes, let them consider wealthy schools
(these may be located in other states -- mine was in
Another point -- as a single mom, your income will also
help qualify your sons for scholarship support. At the
wealthiest institutions they offer need-based scholarships
and ''blind'' admissions, meaning that they admit students
on the basis of qualification and then look at their
financial situation. At the state institutions there are
special considerations for low-income families with
Third, if your sons are not great students or athletes,
the community college route is perfectly fine, especially
for the first couple of years. There are wonderful
community colleges right around here -- they can live at
home and pay a relatively low amount.
Fourth -- give your sons the gift of a work ethic. I had
part-time jobs explicitly with the idea of saving for
college from my freshman year in high school on. During
the summers I worked full-time, and I always worked part-
time while in college. There is no reason why you should
shoulder this burden all on your own; it will serve your
sons well if they help with the cost and it will teach
them the value of the education they receive. I think too
few parents now take seriously the value of learning to
work for pay. It would not be the end of the world if
your sons had to take a year off in between high school
and college to save up some funds.
It can be done without tremendous debt!
former scholarship recipient and work-study student
Don't panic. If they did well in high school, they'll be
fine at community college for the first 2 years, and with
good grades, transfer to a UC for junior and senior years.
If they've done exceedingly well, they might end up at an
out-of-state school with a scholarship. It matters from
where you graduate, not where you went at the beginning of
your college education. One can get a good education at
almost any school - if motivated to learn and grow.
I lived away from home for a couple years and then decided
to go to university when I really knew what I wanted to
do. My parents couldn't afford it so I subsisted on
loans. Yes, I owe a great deal of money. But, I worked
much harder and appreciated the university experience much
more. I was a serious student who didn't waste time
trying to figure out which liberal arts degree I wanted
only to end up working as a waitress and leaving my
parents with tens/hundreds of thousands in debt. Here's
my advice: if you can't afford it, you can't afford it.
If your kids are really motivated to go, they will find a
way and won't take it for granted if they do. If they are
able to accomplish it, then help as much as you are able.
Secondly, as a PhD, I want to tell you that there is
really no point in some kids even going to university. My
husband makes more than some of my professors and he went
from the best parochial schools straight into the navy and
never even did college. The nation is currently in a job
crisis because the work force is top-heavy. Everyone
spends so much sending their kids to university and the
kids can't get jobs when they graduate. There are almost
no skilled tradesmen out there (now they make some
money!). Most the kids in my classes are completely
unmotivated and uninterested. Do everyone a favour and
don't saddle yourself with more debt than you manage.
You've given them a good start, now let them figure it out
for themselves. For what it's worth, I encourage my
children to work at whatever job they can find for a few
years to figure things out and then if they want to go, I
will help them however I can, short of taking out loans
for it. Paying tuition while they are ''finding''
themselves is a waste of time and money. At least that's
been my experience. Take it with a grain of salt if you
want, just don't let other parents make you feel bad for
your final decision. Most of them are just following the
crowd and making the country's economic situation worse.
Ideas: Enroll them at a local junior college for the first
year or so. They can complete their ''core requirements''
very inexpensively and live at home to save money. Caveat:
if they have an idea of what 4 year college they want,
they should check to make sure all their units are
transferrable. All colleges have a variety of financial
aid options: scholarships, grants, work study. Check the
site for your college of choice. For example, UC Davis has
a search engine where you put in your gender, ethnicity,
potential major, etc. and they give you a list on
scholarships you might qualify for. There are scholarship
search sites on the web, but some you have to pay for. I
made it through college and grad school on scholarships,
grants, work study and loans. I didn't have extra money,
bought used books or borrowed them from the school
library, but I got my degrees! (My mom was a single,
disabled mom with two kids and part of our childhood was
Start by googling ''financial aid calculator'' and at the
second entry that comes up, click on Expected Family
Contribution. You can get a quick estimate of your
expected family contribution, which may be less than you
think. If your salary is low enough, your children may be
eligible for a Pell grant or for other financial aid. So
first learn whether or not your children may be eligible
for federal grants. If your income is truly low, there
are a number of programs available for those who qualify
for Pell grants.
You can learn a lot from the online financial aid websites
and from financial aid books in bookstores. Read these
carefully. They spell out the issues of private vs.
public colleges (in many cases, the amount you are
expected to pay is the same whether your child goes to a
private school or a public one). Each college may offer a
different financial aid package, so don't rule out
colleges automatically just because their tuition is high.
When your oldest child becomes a sophomore in high school,
have an honest talk with him about how he may need to
apply for every scholarship he hears about, help work his
way through college, work summers, go to the college that
offers the most financial aid, and take out large loans.
If things don't work out financially, he may have to go to
community college for the first two years and live at
home. You can tell him you are hoping this worst case
scenario won't happen, but that you won't know for sure
until he is accepted and sees how much financial aid may
be offered. Maybe things will work out better than you
think. At any rate, the more he can do to do well in
school and engage in meaningful activities and show his
talents, the better things will be all around.
Also, consider: Any relatives that might be willing to
Am I the only one who is finding the whole financial aid
process to be a cruel joke? What am I not understanding?
We fill out the FAFSA, based on which, some formula
determines the “expected parent contribution”. It is an
outlandish number that we could never in a million years
actually afford. Yet that number establishes your “need” --
it is a word game. Define our need in a way that does not
correspond to reality -- then even if you fill that need
100%, we still cannot afford to go to school! And yet that
is what happens -- no school provides more financial aid
than your “need” amount from the FAFSA. Not work-study,not
even subsidized loans -- nothing.
Just for illustration, let’s posit the unlikely
circumstance that you get “full” financial aid at both
Stanford and at Cal. Stanford is going to give you a lot
more money than Cal is, but as far as you are concerned,
both schools will cost exactly the same, because neither
one will go below the “floor” of your “need” as established
by FAFSA. So, even with full financial aid, you still
can’t hope to pay for it. (I think that even if you are
lucky enough to get a merit-based scholarship, that will
also reduce your need, and your need-based aid is reduced.)
Since the FAFSA amount is not part of your need, you can’t
even get a subsidized loan for it. Your only option is an
ordinary loan that you must start paying back right away
We are not destitute by anyone’s definition, but things are
really hard. (No eligibility for Pell Grants or Cal Grants
or anything like that.) We’ve already borrowed so much
against a home equity line of credit that I just flat-out
couldn’t cover the payments for anything more -- not even
interest-only. (There’s no room here for details, so just
believe me -- please no lectures on money management or
lifestyle. We don’t have a “lifestyle”…)
My son is a good conscientious student who will probably be
admitted to most of the schools he applies to -- we’ve
never even talked about private school or out-of-state, but
he should be able to go to a UC or a CSU and that has
always been the idea. Now what do I tell him?
This “need” game isn’t just because of our reversal of
circumstances -- even when I was working full-time and our
circumstances were much better, the FAFSA calculated an
amount far beyond our reach. What do other people do?
What do other people know that I don’t? I hope someone can
tell me that I am wrong!
You're very right about the absurdity of the FAFSA EFC
calculation--it does not at all take into account cost of
living in a particular area or other expenses, or much else
besides income, assets, and number of children in college.
If you truly feel that the EFC does not accurately represent
your family's ability to pay--and have at least some
documentation toward that end--you should submit what's
called a ''letter of special circumstance'' to each school's
financial aid office that explains your situation, income
vs. expenses, and basically show (don't assert, show) how
you can't afford the ''expected contribution.'' You would do
this AFTER you've received a letter of admission and an aid
Please know I'm not lecturing you, but rather just want you
to be prepared for an answer you're very likely to receive
when you talk to aid offices about all of this: it is their
position that the primary responsibility for financing
college falls first with the family, and the presumption is
that families have been saving for college education.
Nevertheless, if you can show them that the EFC is off base,
most aid offices do have discretion to adjust the need
calculation and change the aid package as they see fit.
Lastly, I would refer you to www.fastweb.com and
www.finaid.org for access to tens of thousands of private
scholarships and grants that your son can apply for.
I hope this helps!
Veritas College Counseling
I have posted this before and one person responded that
they did not have a good experience. But I am extremely
grateful to the help that I received from Paul Wrubel.
There are other people as well but I would contact Paul.
We have a WCS - worst case scenario - for our 2 teenage
daughters college education. First of all, they would have
to live at home; paying rent or dorm fees is outrageous.
They would have to go to a community college for the first
two years. Tuition runs about $225 per semester and books
another $200 (or more) We can do this out of pocket. Any
spending money would come from a part-time job. Next two
years child goes to closest CSU - East Bay or SF (see - they
have a choice) Tuition and books go on low interest credit
card to be paid off over the course of each quarter or
semester. It is doable. Do some more checking on student
You could always do what my dad did to me - kick me out at
18. I had barely enough money in the bank to pay 1st
semester tuition and dorm fee at Sonoma State but after 2
years I got full financial aid (I felt rich!). But, because
of prop 13, state schools are a bit more than $60 a semester
nowadays, and your son might not find someones living room
floor to crash on.
Some parents are paying their kids rent under the table for
those first two years, and not claiming them on their taxes.
This makes those two years easier for the kid. The kid
just has to remember not to make too much money.
Oh, one more thing. There are small schools in out of the
way places that if your son gets in, they will work with you
to make your son going to their school happen. Friends of
ours sent their daughter to a very small Christian college
in Iowa, and on paper, there was no way they would be able
to do it, but she is a sophomore there now, and they're not
totally broke. They have even had enough for the plane fare
home on Xmas and Easter.
Good luck to you.
We have two daughters in college now, and figured out the
same reality as you are facing early on. We are lucky
enough to have kids that excelled in school and on
standardized tests, so we helped them choose very
carefully which schools they applied to -- they only
applied to UCs and private schools with merit
scholarships. No Stanford, no Ivies or top-50 schools,
since it was clear from the FAFSA that we wouldn't qualify
for enough need-based aid, and that is all those places
offer. Both our kids ended up with good choices: Regents
scholarships from a couple of UC's, full-tuition offers
from one or more private colleges. Not the best or the
sexiest, but still they're getting a good education for a
price we can sort of afford. If you do your research,
you will find that there are options out there -- and that
you may be better off with one of the private colleges
that are trying to pull up their stats by luring some high-
testing students with $$. I recommend the Parents Forum
on CollegeConfidential.com; there is lots of good advice
there about how to find schools with merit scholarships.
Basically it's about finding places where your kid's stats
place him the top 20% or so. The other option, of course,
is to have him go to community college for two years, work
and save money, and then transfer to a UC. Not the
greatest choice for most kids, but it's much cheaper than
four years. But please be realistic with him about what
his and your choices are, and about the extent to which
you expect him to contribute financially to his
education. College students who work part-time generally
do better in school, not worse, because they don't waste
so much time.
Wish mine could have gone to Columbia
I know what you're going through. There are a couple of
misconceptions in there, I think. I don't believe merit
scholarships reduce EPC. Some loans may be subsidized.
Payback on federal loans is generally after graduation I
think. Don't rule out private and/or out-of-state schools -
they often have the best merit scholarships, grants, and
discretion as to how to use funds based on the specific
case. Different schools will offer different packages, and
to some extent the package can be appealed with a short
letter stating financial reasons.
I would highly recommend Frances Fee, an independent
financial aid advisor. I went to her and so did some of my
friends (my daughter went to college this year). She's
great, she'll look at your individual situation and arm
you with information. I'm sorry I don't have her number on
hand, but she's in Berkeley/Oakland, up around the
Caldecott. She can't overhaul the entire system and it may
fall short for you, but she'll help you make the best of
My situation was: divorced, no child support, no assets,
self-employed with business scarily slow due to external
economic factors beyond my control, basically going into
the negative each month as of last FAFSA application, so
we got decent aid package offers. It's stress either way
and I wouldn't have done it my way on purpose.
Let yourself reach some emotional equilibrium, talk to
Frances, then calmly relate the necessary facts to your
son. I just communicted the uncertainty to my daughter,
then let the aid packages speak for themselves. Some
schools were just out and she could see why.
Good luck, something will come through for your son.
been there, still there
You're right, college education has become much less affordable for
middle-class parents in the last few years. I've been figuring it's
investment on the level of a second house (at least). If you have
it gets really expensive. The biggest discount escape is community
the UCs take transfer students after two years. Also note that I've
a big drop in our grocery and incidentals bills since my older teenager
to college, so their accommodation costs can be somewhat offset.
This is a big problem. I had it a long time ago when tuition was a
tenth of what it is now. One of the things I was able to do was declare
an independent student, so only my assets were considered and not my
family's. That takes a while, your son would need to move out and earn
living for a few years, whatever the California law stipulates.
Alternatives: Check your workplace or former workplace, associations,
and religious affiliation for scholarships you may not know about. Write
all your relatives, friends and associates, create a trust fund, or a
savings account for their contributions, and be clear which are gifts,
which are loans. Ask for non interest, deferred payment after graduation
leaving school terms. You will still need to pay taxes on interests, and
amounts which exceed the gift laws, so check with a bank financial
advisor. Your bank
may do this for free if you keep the funds there. Otherwise the loan game
has most everyone going to college indentured, unless you have saved a
amount for each child. If you do not have it, learn to fundraise, and
keep asking the school that wants him for more financial aid, apply
Dear Parent of an aspiring college student,
You sound panicked about college costs and, while
understandable, that will not help your son. Here are some
Fact #1: College is expensive. Very expensive. For most
families, it is the most expensive product/service, other
than a home, they will ever buy. Tuition and expenses for
private colleges now run between $40 and $50K per year, so
we are very lucky to live in a state with relatively low
cost, high-quality public institutions.
Fact #2: College is a fabulous investment. Every study
ever done shows that lifetime earnings increase
geometrically with more education and that every dollar
spent on education pays back several times. That means you
need to stop panicking and start breathing. Hundreds of
thousands of families go through what you are going through
(and far worse--either because they have fewer resources or
fewer low-cost options than you do). It is not easy, but it
Fact #3: The college financial aid system is designed to
distribute a limited number of aid dollars equitably. It
does not make financing a college education easy or cheap.
Rather, it asks all families to make roughly the same level
of sacrifice (your expected student and family contribution)
and to ensure that beyond this level, costs are covered.
(Students whose families are low enough income to qualify
for Pell or Cal Grants still have to pay an expected
contribution.) It sounds as if you have been thinking that
if you were not wealthy, your son was a good student and he
attended a public university, financial aid would somehow
cover the cost. Unfortunately, in an era when the state
raises tuition every year and other costs like housing keep
going up, this is just not the case.
Fact #4: Financial aid offers are not immutable. If you
have genuinely exceptional circumstances that are not
considered in the federal formula, you need to talk with the
financial aid folks at the colleges your son is interested
in. This may not result in increased aid, but it can.
So, you need a game plan. Of course, tightening the family
financial belt is always the first step. But, as you point
out, many families in high-cost areas like the Bay Area,
have virtually no financial flexibility. This means, at
worst, that your child is going to need to work during
college and to take out loans. Most college students, even
those who are affluent, do both of these things and it is
entirely possible to finance a UC/CSU education on a
combination of borrowing and work, with no family
contribution. You also need to look at the full range of
options--student living at home or in the cheapest dorm,
asking for help from relatives, parent taking on a second
job, delaying college for a year while your son works and
saves his earnings, attending a community college for the
first two years. None of these is optimal, but again, they
are possible and thinking them through will help you begin
to get a handle on trade-offs.
Most of all, talk to people who know these issues--your
son's high school counselor and the financial aid
professionals at the colleges you are considering. You all
have one thing in common: you want your son to enroll at a
school he's happy with and to thrive once there. Trust me,
it WILL happen.
UC financial aid advisor
You are not alone being dismayed by how much the family is
often expected to contribute and borrow for college costs.
It would be better if families knew about this years
earlier, so plans could be made accordingly. Going to a
local CC and then transferring to a UC/CSU is taken by
many who want to cut costs. Another option is to live at
home and attend a UC or CSU that is close by. I know
families and students who take on much more debt than they
had thought they would to make it work. Some families raid
their retirement or refinance their homes or take weekend
jobs or make other sacrifices that sound very painful. You
have to make hard choices, I think. But it wouldn't hurt
to contact the financial aid office and see if there was
any hope of additional funds, especially if there was a
hardship or special circumstance they might not know about.
You are absolutely right about financial aid being a cruel
joke, but there may be help. I suggest that you call
Frances Fee. (I don't have her number handy, but she's in
the local phone book.) She has made a specialty of helping
people write appeal letters after they have been denied
FAFSA financial aid. Private colleges often have more
money to offer than the public colleges do, and many will
far exceed what the FAFSA suggests if you can show that you
have special circumstances (such as health problems, being
an older parent, or facing retirement without having
My son was admitted to a private college that he longed to
attend, but without the financial aid we needed. He was
heartbroken--but after we wrote a heartfelt appeal, the
college raised its offer very substantially, and my son is
now attending there and happy!
You are right that the financial aid process is cruel, but
it's not a joke. It was designed to give help to people of
low income (and only loans to people of moderate to high
income). Thus it doesn't meet what YOU need, but rather
helps those with the fewest resources to pay for college.
That said, you do have a clear understanding of what's
involved. Whether you feel you can afford it or not, you
and your son are expected to come up with the ''expected
family contribution'' (or to take out loans to cover it) and
with some exceptions (athletic scholarships, merit
scholarships, college-based grants), a college can offer
you financial aid only for your need beyond that.
However, there are things you can do: decrease expenses
and increase resources. Some of the specific actions may
not be palatable or even possible for you, but there are
options. The first step is to face the reality of it, talk
with your son so he knows this, and make plans to decrease
college expenses and increase your resources to pay for
it. Tell your son that you need his active help in meeting
the challenge of paying for college.
There are only a few options to decrease expenses. One is
to choose the lowest cost college, one that costs less than
your expected family contribution. And you could reduce
room and board costs by having him live at home.
- the least expensive way would be to have him attend a
junior college for the first two years, then transfer later
to a local state college. That way he could live at home
for all 4 years. A lot of people go this way to reduce
- or find those state or private college that cost less.
College guidebooks often list them as ''best bargains.''
Have him apply to some of these schools.
- Explore other ways to get costs covered--do students who
work as dorm resident advisors get free or reduced-cost
housing? An option for junior or senior year?
There are many possible ways to increase the amount of
money you have to pay for college if you stretch your
imagination, but not all will be possible for you.
- ask relatives if they can help pay for college
(grandparents, your aunts/uncles or siblings who don't have
- have your son apply for any scholarship he hears about
(most high schools have lists, and there are free
scholarship search sites online). Some scholarship
applications may require writing an esay; get your son to
commit to writing these.
- if your son has special talents, such as musical ability,
see if colleges offer special scholarships
- apply to colleges that offer merit scholarships.
- apply to good but less popular private colleges. These
schools may be more likely to offer merit scholarships or
their own grants.
- if you have special circumstances (such as disability,
high medical bills), detail these in a letter to each
college's financial aid office.
- unsubsidized federal Stafford student loans are available
to those who don't meet the criteria of need and these
loans get paid back after the student leaves school. They
cover only a percentage of the total college cost, but they
would help. The interest could be paid as you go (low
amounts the first few years) or added to the loan amount
that gets repaid after graduation. So be sure to submit
- have your son get a part-time job now, while still in
high school, and save that money for college.
- have your son try to get high paying summer jobs. Think
through what types of jobs pay well (coomputer work?
waiter?) and which match his ability.
- have your son plan to work while in college, preferably
at a job that pays well. In considering which college to
go to, consider which towns might have outside jobs easily
available and reachable for a person without a car.
- are you or your spouse able to get a higher paying job
than what you have now?
- can you or your spouse work overtime or take on a second
- rebudget your daily expenses: reduce your food budget,
eliminate all eating out including coffee, consider selling
your second car (if you have one) or buying a cheaper car
than the one you have, curtail vacations (consider
camping), save in every way possible
Consider some radical ideas:
- could your son take a year off before going to college to
work at a high paying job to save money for college (there
are some jobs that are physically demanding and pay well--
- or maybe he could take a year off after junior college to
earn money to pay for the following year at a 4-year school.
Good luck. Maybe some of the positives (relatives,
scholarships, lower-cost schools) will come through for you!
While specific questions about money and college are the
realm of financial advisers, there are some general ideas to
First, don’t hide from your kids: disclose your finances
with your college-bound student. What can you afford if you
don’t get any aid. Privates? UC's? CSU's? Community
colleges? Or would the student have to work for a year or
two? Talk now to avoid major disappointment spring of senior
Second, don’t get sticker – or ''financial aid calculator''
shock. A school may quote $50,000 as the total cost of
attendance, and a website may tell you that you'll be liable
for $40k of that. But schools - especially privates - have a
lot of leeway with those numbers. In particular, privates
attempting to attract specific students can offer generous
merit aid unrelated to your finances.
Third, apply around. You can compare offers, and often be
surprised at who is willing to give you aid. And don’t limit
yourself to state schools – remember point two above.
Fourth, don’t be afraid to call colleges. Talk to the
financial aid office about anything you couldn’t describe in
the FAFSA or PROFILE – and see what they’re willing to do
for you. Families of every income level and circumstance can
and do afford college.
Eion Lys College Counselor
I too highly recommend Frances Fee. Not only did she fill
out the forms for my son, she helped us write a letter of
special circumstances which the financial aid office at
Columbia took into consideration and granted him some
I couldn't have done it without Frances' help.
Happy Columbia mom
My son has been admitted to some UC's for fall of 2007 which
is good news. I broached the topic of how we're going to
pay for college with my ex-husband today. As I expected, he
thinks its fair that I pay for most of the college expenses
since he makes less money and has fewer assets. I think it
would be fair for us each to pay half because we've both
known that we'd have college expenses starting in 2007 and
because we've had equal opportunity to work hard and save
money over the 13 years since our divorce. I don't want to
just roll over and pay more because I can but I especially
don't want to hurt my kid because of this dispute. How have
others handled paying for college with an ex? should I
shield my son from this issue even if the only way not to
include him may be to pay whatever my ex won't? I
appreciate any suggestions or even commiseration!
Like yourself, I am a divorced mother of a college age teen.
I have been working 60 hours weeks for a long time while my
ex chose a job with half less hours and three months
vacation each year. Not surprisingly, he is paid less money
and has fewer assets. I have consulted with well recommended
(and expensive) attorney and was told that unless the
college payment agreement was a part of a court filed
divorce settlement, my ex does not have to pay a penny of
tuition. I would suggest to pay what you can get your ex to
agree to at the moment, and after the first year ask your
son to take out a student loan guaranteed by both parents
(and he will need to obtain your ex's signature)
I think that the fairest way to do this is to do a little
arithmetic and take the after-tax incomes of the two of
you, add them together, and determine the percentages each
of you contribute to the total. That percentage is the
percentage that you each should contribute to the college
costs. Thus, if your percentage of the total income of
both of you is 60%, you should pay for 60% of the college
My ex and I agreed verbally that we would split tuition for
an out-of-state university for our son, which, with cheaper
cost of living, was about the same as the UCs. I make more
than my ex, but I felt, like you, that we had both expected
to have this expense eventually. It's only 4 years of belt
tightening, and I wanted my ex to have a stake in our son's
education. My ex and I have both remarried, my current
husband has a good job, my ex's wife has family money. So
this seemed fair. I managed all the paperwork, I paid the
first semester, he paid the second, and I paid the third,
and then in the middle of our son's sophomore year, with
payment a week overdue, he told me that he could not afford
any more college tuition. He said that our son should
instead take out student loans like both of us did. Well,
this left our son unable to register for classes, so I paid,
and I ended up paying for the rest of college. Our son
graduated college almost 2 years ago - his dad didn't visit
him even once in four years or go to the graduation. His
loss. I think in retrospect that this was the right decision
and I'm happy that my son doesn't have to spend years paying
off college loans like we did, and that I didn't have to get
into a big fight with his dad to make things more equitable.
Mom who's OK with it
My situation is somewhat similar in that my ex makes more
money and has more assets; although I got the house in the
divorce. Our son is in an an out of state uiversity, and has
gotten some small grants and worked as his schedule
permitted. We did not not allow him to work his freshman
year. We basically agreed to pay 50/50 . . . splitting
tuition, rent, food, limited spending money and travel. The
ex also pays for cell phone, car, insurance, clothes, books,
etc. The son usually makes enough from his job to pay for
gas, car maintenance, personal items, etc. We determine as
needed how to handle unexpected expenses, extra curricular
costs, etc. I feel the arrangement is fair. I lost my job the
first year our son was away in college and the ex offered to
help as much as he could and has been generous though
grumbling on occasion. He has subsequently paid more than I
have. I came into a small inheritance and gave a token
monetary ''Thank You'' to him for his support. I've also used
some of the equity in the house to pay my share of the bills.
We all have struggles, make choices and often one has more
resources than the other. This isn't the time for a tit for
tat power play over who does/has what and the choices they
have made. Since it wasn't spelled out in the divorce
settlement . . . pay the portion that you feel is in the best
interest of your son with the resources each of you has. This
can always be supplemented with loans, grants and a job for
your son. He however should not in any way be put in the
middle of this. Our children are our future and since your
family clearly values education; set the example by not
financially compromising what that future will hold. I hope
it works out well for all of you.
Help! Can someone tell me how much my children can borrow for
their first and third years at a UC, respectively, just by
themselves? I know the amounts vary, and they don't cover all
the tuition that the UC system charges (Berkeley or Santa Cruz,
not the state schools). Then the rest must be funded by parent
loans, right? My understanding is that the basic amount is
called an entitlement loan, and that's all they can borrow.
After that it's all about the private loans. Any clarifications
You need to contact the financial aid office at Cal and see what
packages they offer, you'll need to fill our a FAFSA form, etc.
But I can say that when I was a student there (7 years ago) I was
able to get federal loans that covered tuition and living
expenses (up to $25,000 per year). Most of the loans were
unsubsidized (meaning interest accrued while I was in school),
but I was able to cover my full tuition. I know of people at
private schools who had to take out private loans, but I believe
that was to cover living expenses, not the cost of tuition.
In this case it sounds like it would depend on the TYPE of loan.
For example, for Federal Stafford Subsidized loans, the limit
first year is $3500 and third year is $5500 (these limits are I
believe set by the federal gov't, not by Cal). I should make
clear that just because the limit is, say, 3500, this doesn't
automatically mean that your child will be eligible for that
entire amount--that will sometimes depend on the needs analysis.
Most students will then look next at Federal UNsubsidized loans
to make up for any remaining shortfall, and the limits on
unsubsidized loans are higher than the subsidized limits listed
above. Both of these federal loans are, I believe, available
directly to students, and usually the amounts available are not
tied to the needs analysis. Some combination of these first two
student loans is sometimes enough to cover costs. Beyond that,
if necessary or desirable, there are two main types of parental
loans, PLUS and Perkins. None of the 4 options listed so far are
private loans, they are all tied to the federal government in
Many students that are taking out loans will end up with some
combination of the above (most commonly some subsidized and some
unsubsidized Stafford monies). Without seeing your financial aid
award letter I can't say more unfortunately--typically award
letters will list what they are offering for each type of grant
and loan. The best thing to do is simply sit down for a half
hour with one of the financial aid officers there, and they
should be very good about walking you through everything simply
Veritas College Admissions Counseling
My son just got accepted to college back east, and in
addition to the Stafford loan, he wants to take out a
personal loan. Can someone tell me how this works; when do
we do this; is the money deposited in a special account;
best place to find good rates, etc. Also, if he gets outside
scholarship money, does this go directly to the college?
This is very new to us, so any help is greatly appreciated.
For more information about private loans, consult four
sources: www.finaid.org, www.nelliemae.com, the Financial
Aid Office at the college your son is accepted, and local
banks. At the www.finaid.org site, click on Loans and on
the section that talks about education lenders. It is also
useful to look at the section on FAQ's about financial
aid. It also reminds you that your son must report to the
Financial Aid Office all scholarships that he receives.
The website also provides a list of the top 50 lenders for
private loans. The www.nelliemae.com site describes the
Federal Family Education Loan Program and has information
about Nellie Mae Private Excel Loans. At most colleges,
the Financial Aid Office sends out a booklet with a list
comparing the rates and details for lenders for Stafford
and private loans; the information provided would differ at
different colleges. And local banks often offer private
loans; check with your bank or other large banks in the
area. There are a lot of lenders offering loans, but you
have to check carefully all the details to see what the
differences are. If you start with the local bank, you may
be able to talk with someone who can explain the loan
details and then use that as a comparison against the
information available from the college or online. Pay
special attention to when the student needs to start
repaying the loan. Good luck!
Re private college expenses--potentially a marvelous experience, but also I think
worth serious up front thought. In addition to the obvious and substantial $45,000 a
year we are paying in tuition, fees, room, and board for our freshman at an urban
Ivy, I've been struck by how much some kids seem to have for "spending money"--and
the peer pressure to participate with that "standard of living". We've negotiated
with our son that part of the cost above what a public university would have been is
a long term loan from the bank of Mom and Dad--and that he is responsible for earning
his spending money--but it has not been easy to sustain that. And I really worry
what commercial borrowing this early in such an expensive educational process would
Re your question on scholarships, it will depend on the source. eg some, such as
National Merit will only send direct to the school (and the school in our case
requires that it be split between the two semesters--so you only get credit for half
the scholarship on the first bill). Others, less formal, have sent us the money
I am a single Mom of a soccer player on the varsity team at BHS, My
son is quite good at soccer. How do I start looking for contacts with
coaches at college level and researching sports scholarships? I'd
appreciate knowing how to get started looking into this? Thanks!
I'd like to point you first to the NCAA's website for student-athletes
in high school:
The NCAA Student Eligibility and Recruiting main website address:
The NCAA Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete:
Also, the BHS college counselor, Rory, will have an initial
registration form to fill out, pay a fee, and send to the NCAA
Clearinghouse. If your son is a junior, there's a college handbook
which has been mailed to every BHS junior just this week, and read
carefully the section on Sports. The Handbook advises that it's
important to create a CV of his career as an athlete and soccer player
which should include his birthdate, physical stats, any special
athletics awards, GPA (to show he can keep up his grades and be an
excellent athlete), tournaments his team has won, current and past
coaches as reference, if he's left-footed or right-footed or both,
positions he's played. The resume should include a photo of him, if
possible, and once he's decided what colleges interest him, he should
send out a cover letter with his resume and let the Athletics Dept. in
each of the colleges know of his interest. Check out the colleges
athletics' websites, see who the coaches are, etc. There's one
important caution: if you get seriously injured during the junior and
senior year, it can hurt your chances of being recruited, so you
should look at colleges that will meet his lifestyle and academic
needs as much as his sporting needs (as an example, my friend's son
went to a college with a nationally top-5 ranked Div. I soccer
program, but had a miserable experience because he was out in the
midwest in the middle of nowhere in a Jesuit school, but finally he
was able to transfer back to California and now plays soccer, not in a
Div. I school, but Div. II, is a starter with more more playing time,
and is much happier).
There are college reference books written for specific sports, and you
can look at Cody's on Telegraph, or Barnes & Noble for a copy, or
check the library. Once you find colleges that have good programs,
call them and ask your questions: do you need defense, do you need
mid-fielders, how many players on the roster. I know of two really
good programs in California -- UC Davis is a Div. II school, moved up
from Div. III, has a great soccer program, and may move to Div. I
within a couple of years; then there's UCSD which is in the same
league with Davis.
Good luck to you and your son.
I have spent the last couple of years researching
basketball scholarships for my son. The web is a great
resource--not only the NCAA site but some other sites as
well--including some put up by other parents who have been
through the process. (A highschool basketball coach told
my son to always remember that 1 in 100 high school players
are able to play at the college level in any division.)
At any rate, I have also learned that attaining a
scholarship is not impossible--but you need to do a lot of
(probably most of) the footwork yourself--highschool
coaches don't always have the time to promote their
athletes as much as they'd like to (and in some cases as
much as they might say they are). In addition to a CV, a
videotape of your child playing (especially senior year) is
crucial. Also--I don't know if this is true of all sports,
but college basketball coaches request the tape of an
entire game (in addition to highlights) as anyone can
usually cut and paste together a great highlight tape.
There is also a private college counselor over in Marin who
specializes in helping seek out athletic scholarships,
although I don't know much about her. Please let me know
if you'd like me to dig up her name and number.
And finally, it took me two years to figure out how the
relationship between a college athletic coach and a college
admissions department works. And it really varies
tremendously depending on the school. In some cases they
have a lot of pull (even in Division II schools) and in
other cases (particularly Division III schools)my
experience was that they had very little. If a Cal coach
(Division I) wants an athlete badly enough, they prestamp
the college application so that it goes into ''it's own
pile''.They do this for potential scholarship recruits as
well as for any walk-ons they might want at Cal. I'm sure
this varies from college to college though, depending on
their sports emphasis. And Division I schools like Cal
obviously handle things pretty differently.
My best advice? Find parents whose kids are already in
college on an athletic scholarship and pick their brains.
Also--talk to parents whose kids have ''walked on'' to a
college team. And be realistic about what division your
kid has a chance of playing in--if you're targeting the
right schools you'll obviously have a much better chance of
success. College play really is at a whole different level.
It's very confusing--even more than it seems at first. And
if you're like me you'll just begin to understand the whole
thing when your first child goes off to college!
National Student Financial Aid
We got a letter from National Student Financial Aid saying that
"according to their research", my daughter is eligible to apply for
grants, scholarships, negotiated tuition discounts and interest free
loans through their college assistance program. Is this just an ad
or something real that should be taken advantage of? Can anyone
I work in Cal's Financial Aid Office. I also have a senior in high
school, so I am also receiving letters from companies such as the one
mentioned above. I actually called a different company called,
"Educational Assistance Council," whose strategy is similar. These
companies all say that your child "is eligible" according to their
information. I asked the company how they determined whether or not
my child was eligible and the receptionist said that their
determination is based on lists that they receive from the SAT.
So, in other words, they really have no idea what your child is
eligible for. They will charge you a fee to do something you can do
for free. You are going to have to fill out a financial aid form
(FAFSA and/or Profile). Your child should also be talking to your
high school's college/career counselor. I also recommend looking at
the website, www.finaid.org. That site has links to free scholarship
search engines. Many high schools also host a financial aid night,
where you will get advice on how to fill out a financial aid form.
My daughter is a senior in high school and has been accepted to
several colleges - UC's as well as small privates. She would
really love to go to a small private but financial aid packages
have not been enough to make it possible. Does anyone have any
experience with trying to get awards increased? Any advice at
all? Is there any point in trying? She thinks her dream school
is Smith but has also been accepted at Occidental, neither of
which has offered enough to get there ($38,000!!! - start saving
now!). Maybe we shouldn't have let her apply to these places,
but we got carried away thinking everyone would think she is as
terrific as we do (parental blinders)... Thanks for any ideas.
It seems to me that the less-well-off families get
financial aid, the wealthy write checks as the tuition is
due, and those in the middle pay over time. So anybody can
go to whatever college they want to, if that is what they
We did not qualify for financial aid for the small private
school back east that my daughter liked best. And we did
not have enough money to pay the tuition out and out. But
we did qualify easily for loans, so you might look into
that. Especially in Massachusetts, the MASSPLAN loans help
finance a college education. In our case, we borrowed 20K
(or so) for each year of the four years in college, and put
it on a 15-year (the max) term. I still have some 7 years
to finish re-paying, but I find it to be manageable, even
with a son in college now and a teen-ager in private high
Besides the loans, my student searched for a job on campus.
When she visited before accepting she asked about jobs. She
had lifeguard training and was offered a job at the sports
center, which she kept all 4 years. So that helped with
spending money for books, etc. And if the college does not
have a job available, maybe your student can use his or her
own talents to financial gain. I know an enterprising
student who creates web pages and has his own business and
even hires other students...he's putting himself through
In addition, my daughter got took out smaller loans in her
own name. I think these were federal loans, which she will
pay back eventually (I think they are deferred at this
point, since she's working on a Ph.D.)
Also, since she was the first of three children in the
family to go to college, we made an agreement that if she
went to this school for undergraduate work instead of a
less expensive school, she'd need to help re-pay the 4
loans. We initially had her paying starting 2 years after
graduation, at the rate each month of the freshman-year
loan. Then each year she'd add in the amounts for the next
loan. But as our family finances got better, and after
doing some analysis, I realized that that way she'd end up
paying more than half for her own college education, which
did not seem right. So now she'll re-pay about 1/4 of the
loan monies. We've decreased the monthly amounts she's
paying rather than increasing them.
She went off to college knowing that she'd have a large
debt to manage. Some people warned that it might make it
harder for her to own a car, a house, have a family, etc.
But that has not been the case.
Not qualifying for financial aid is not the end of the
world. I think that you can manage a private education if
that is what you value and if that is what seems to best
suit the needs and interests of your student.
My oldest is a junior and will be applying for college next
year. We think we earn too much for a need base financial
aid, but cannot afford private college tuition. Is there
reliable information on the financial aid process or income
cut-offs? What assets do colleges consider in determining
a family's ability to pay tuition? Is there anyone out
there who helps families with applying for scholarships for
college, or enlightening wage earner parents on the
scholarship/financial aid process?
My advice is don't assume you make too much money to qualify
for private college financial aid--especially if you honestly
can't afford private college tuition. It is much different
than eligibility for UC as many private colleges have their
own resources, which they use if they really want your
student to attend. We found a great resource in Sue Kim who
is a knowledgeable consultant. She'll do an initial
evaluation for a nominal fee to see if she can really help
you, and then if you decide to use her I believe she charges
around $600--and that is for advising you on everything from
filling out the Federal FAPSA, to CSS Parents Confidential
Statement to the applications at individual colleges. Sounds
like a lot of money, but it's well worth it if you end up
getting a substantial award. She's at suekim AT educc.com.Good
A College Parent
To locate information about scholarships, you can consult
free websites, such as www.fastweb.com (which accesses
information on 400,000 scholarships). In addition,
individual colleges also have specific scholarships you can
apply for; based on PSAT scores taken in October of the
junior year, some students may be eligible for the National
Merit Scholarship Program; the college advisor's office at
your school has information on local scholarships; athletic
scholarships for the talented are available from Division I
or II schools (but not from the Ivy League); the military
offers Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarships.
The book Paying for College Without Going Broke by Kalmon
A. Chany (Random House) provides a detailed description of
the financial aid forms that are required and the methods
of calculating financial aid using both federal (FAFSA)and
institutional (PROFILE) methods. For example, the book
details what percentage of the parents' and of the
students' assets are assessed. The book clarifies which
assets colleges consider (this differs for public and
private institutions, most notably regarding home equity).
The book provides many special case situations (for
example, how trusts are evaluated, what if someone else
pays the student's bills)and forms to estimate your
financial aid need. You can also calculate your estimated
family contribution on-line. The www.finaid.org and
www.collegeboard.com sites provide financial calculators to
estimate your Expected Family Contribution..
I've seen some good advice on financial aid in the postings and just want
to pass on the best advice I received from someone (can't reveal my source)
very experienced and knowledgeable about getting into, and affording,
college. First, don't be put off by how expensive a college education
is. For private colleges, they do have endowments and ways to cover
tuition, room and board that public colleges don't offer. Go for private
if that's what your child wants. Secondly, and most important, if you have
a complex financial situation (divorced, single mom, taking care of an
elderly parent using your own income, etc.), it's extremely important to
write to the financial aid office of the school your child is most
interested in attending, and in detail, thoroughly explain your financial
situation. For example, if you filled out the FAFSA and it says that your
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is $10k, and you really can't afford
that, explain it in your letter (get every medical bill you have for the
year -- prescriptions, medical appointments, dental bills, eye doctor,
etc.); if you have another child in afterschool care, explain all daycare,
afterschool, and summer costs for your other child or children, besides
your soon to be high school grad. It's also important to anticipate any
unusual circumstances that will deduct from your ability to pay the EFC in
the school year your child will be attending. Detailing these expenses (and
medical expenses with receipts and other supporting documents) will help
when your child is finally accepted to the school he/she has applied
to. As soon as your child accepts an offer from a college, you should get
started on this process (and it's a process that you have to go through
each year your child attends college). Best of luck.
this page was last updated: Jan 12, 2013
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