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Newbie Q about college costs


profmom
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You can complete the FAFSA4caster at https://fafsa.ed.gov...?execution=e1s1 to get an idea of what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be and compare that to the Cost of Attendance (COA) at colleges of interest. However, unless a school promises to meet the full need of all admitted students (you can google for a list, but there are not that many), you may be asked to contribute much more than your EFC. However, if you have a fairly high EFC and a strong student, they may qualify for merit scholarships which result in you paying less than your EFC. Most schools do have their own online calculators (I believe this is federally mandated now) which can also give you an idea of what you might pay. However, you really won't know for sure until your student is accepted and receives a financial aid package.

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Every school is now required to have a cost calculater. However, they're not terribly accurate. Basically, if you've been frugal and saved, you're out of luck for many need-based grants. And any $$ that is in the kid's name (past sophomore year of high school) is used up FIRST before any help. It was cheaper for violin girl to go to private school in MI than CU Boulder. In CO, the ranch is an asset at FULL MARKET VALUE, not productive value, so we were out of luck. FAFSA doesn't allow you to count hs expenses, so you're out of luck there too. If your kid is in private school, you can claim those expenses. If you own your small house, have your pension socked away in 401K etc. and have no other income, you MIGHT get something. If you've worked hard, bought rentals, spent 25 years paying off a ranch, you're screwed. All of the money that my children have gotten has all been merit aid not need-based aid.

 

 

What Margaret says may be true in Mass. also. We know a hay farmer who inherited his farm. They have NO money. The farm was assessed at full market value and he was eligible for no financial aid. We, on the other hand, are in a situation more like Margaret's own-your-small-house one and we were eligible for some financial aid. As far as I can tell, if you are a farmer, the whole system is trying to make you fail.

 

Nan, who has spent her whole life watching family farm after family farm turn into McMansions and thinks "they" are being unbelievably short sighted not to do something about this

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It really, really, really depends upon the school. Some do not give out much in need-based aid. A few offer it to those making in excess of 100K (without much in assets).

 

Merit aid is also variable. Some do not offer it at all. Others can offer some for relatively low scores (1500 SAT - all three sections combined). Some offer a token, some offer partial or full tuition, some offer free rides. Some are guaranteed, some are competitive.

 

Try the Net Price Calculators at schools you are interested in, then cast a net instead of depending upon one school. Most schools middle son applied to had us paying < 15K due to either merit aid, need based aid, or a combo. One school wanted us to pay 40K. We axed that one rather quickly. It's a good thing middle son didn't feel he needed that school "or bust."

 

For both of my older two boys our state school options were some of the more expensive schools (not the most expensive). Private schools with aid worked out to cost less.

 

We'll see what happens for my youngest. So far he doesn't have the scores the older two had. Scores count a TON when it comes to aid - even for getting in to great need-based aid schools. I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying in our experience it's what happens. Look for schools where your student is in the top 10 - 25% of students - just not so super top that they will be underchallenged and bored.

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You can complete the FAFSA4caster at https://fafsa.ed.gov...?execution=e1s1 to get an idea of what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be and compare that to the Cost of Attendance (COA) at colleges of interest. However, unless a school promises to meet the full need of all admitted students (you can google for a list, but there are not that many), you may be asked to contribute much more than your EFC. However, if you have a fairly high EFC and a strong student, they may qualify for merit scholarships which result in you paying less than your EFC. Most schools do have their own online calculators (I believe this is federally mandated now) which can also give you an idea of what you might pay. However, you really won't know for sure until your student is accepted and receives a financial aid package.

 

[My bolding above.] Bear in mind that the full need of an admitted student might be met by:

 

grants (which do not need to be repaid)

work study

loans

 

Regards,

Kareni

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Also bear in mind that colleges regularly alter policies. Some that were meeting all need prior to the economic downturn changed their policies when endowments tanked. Some colleges that formerly gave merit aid now only give financial based need. Do not assume that today's policies will be in place in five or ten years.

 

With that in mind, you need to save, save, save!

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I thought I would put some numbers to your questions from the aid package my senior received from a private STEM university. She ranks in the top 25% of their accepted student profile, probably top 5/10 percent.

 

School’s tuition is 35,000+ a year plus another 10,000+ for room/board. Our EFC is less than half of the tuition. My senior was awarded a 20,000 merit scholarship upon acceptance and then was given a $2,000 grant with the aid package. Everything else in the aid package was loans.

 

We are a complicated family, so the net calculators were all over the place with this school when I tried them prior to filling out the FASFA . After I had the aid package, I went back and tried the net calculator again with the FASFA numbers, and the result was almost identical, minus the grant.

I think I was expecting more aid out of this school, which says nearly 100 percent of the students receive grants. The average grant is reported at nearly 19,000 compared to the average loan of less than 9,000. Around 2/3rds of the students receive loan offers. Of course, if the scholarship is considered a grant, my kid would receive more than the average in grants as well as in loans.

 

Thankfully, my kid isn’t in love with this school.

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Every school is now required to have a cost calculater. However, they're not terribly accurate. Basically, if you've been frugal and saved, you're out of luck for many need-based grants. And any $$ that is in the kid's name (past sophomore year of high school) is used up FIRST before any help. It was cheaper for violin girl to go to private school in MI than CU Boulder. In CO, the ranch is an asset at FULL MARKET VALUE, not productive value, so we were out of luck. FAFSA doesn't allow you to count hs expenses, so you're out of luck there too. If your kid is in private school, you can claim those expenses. If you own your small house, have your pension socked away in 401K etc. and have no other income, you MIGHT get something. If you've worked hard, bought rentals, spent 25 years paying off a ranch, you're screwed. All of the money that my children have gotten has all been merit aid not need-based aid.

 

It's kind of annoying to sacrifice and then be penalized for it - "Oh, YOU can pay more....you've been frugal with your money!"

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[My bolding above.] Bear in mind that the full need of an admitted student might be met by:

 

grants (which do not need to be repaid)

work study

loans

 

Regards,

Kareni

 

Meeting a need with loans is not an award, is it?

 

I/my kid can get a loan anytime, anywhere.

 

If you aren't showing me the money - and not loans, which are the opposite of money, keep your paperwork (I will want to say!). Not doing loans here. We are too old. It would be hideously unwise to go into debt for kids. If our investments don't fund it, the kid is going to have to make it happen.

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Meeting a need with loans is not an award, is it?

 

I/my kid can get a loan anytime, anywhere.

 

If you aren't showing me the money - and not loans, which are the opposite of money, keep your paperwork (I will want to say!). Not doing loans here. We are too old. It would be hideously unwise to go into debt for kids. If our investments don't fund it, the kid is going to have to make it happen.

 

There is one loan that is federally subsidized which means as long as junior is in school, the federal gov't pays the interest on it. If they pay it in full upon graduation or soon thereafter, then the money was free. I can't remember exactly how much it is worth (annually) - maybe 3K?

 

Otherwise, I agree with you on loans, but I also see them a bit like a mortgage - something needed (by many) for a long term investment. The key is not getting more than you can pay off in 5 years or so with a reasonably salary. For us, this limit is < 30K (total, not annual). Each family needs to set their own level.

 

We do not have parent loans. Only our students have loans. As with LC, some schools got cut purely based upon the finances. Others gave us affordable packages. What schools can offer is closely related to how much they have in endowments. One can get lucky with others if the school really wants a student, but it's just that - luck - not dependable.

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...I/my kid can get a loan anytime, anywhere. ...

 

 

Unfortunately, this isn't true. Ask Creekland. Ask most students. There is a limit to how much "they" will lend students with no cosigner. I seem to remember it being something in the 5k range, maybe????, anyway, something well, well below the price of many private school, whose estimated expenses per year tend to run between 35k and 59k a year here (for comarison, state schools are more like 25k or 28k instate).

 

It also is unfortunately true that there are loans and there are loans. In our experience, the loans that are included in the financial aid package from the school are "good" loans. A good loan is one with a low interest rate that has no payments until the student graduates. A bad loan is one with a higher interest rate that needs to have payments made on it starting immediately. There are all sorts of things in between, too. My oldest had various grants that needed to be paid back after he graduated (no interest involved). There are loans which are free until the student graduates, also, at which point the student starts paying interest and payments.

 

Saving and having to pay it doesn't look so bad when faced with higher interest loans that start immediately and have to be cosigned by a parent. I agree that it does seem like one is penalized for being thrifty and good, but the "aid" that people who haven't saved anything are saying they are getting is probably not a full tuition and board scholarship gift but a package involving loans, grants, scholarships, and work/study.

 

Bottom line - saving from birth is STILL a good idea. Paying off your mortgage is STILL a good idea. The colleges we've dealt with have some sort of financing plan in which the year's bill is split into 12 monthly payments. With part of it coming from college savings, part of it coming from modest student loans (the good kind), and part from scholarships and grants, with any luck, those monthly payments will be something you can manage BECAUSE you don't have mortgage and car payments. This is how we've cobbled it togoether. We've suspended paying into our retirment account (self-employed so necessary) during this period, unfortunately, but we haven't touched what is there already. And as Margaret pointed out, despite making a decent living and owning our home, we have received financial aid from schools, not just scholarships. They didn't cover the whole tuition and room and board, but they covered enough that we can manage (with luck) what wasn't included in that combination of grants/shcolarhsips/loans. A really key piece of this equation is that my sons are majoring in something that has a good chance of resulting in their being able to pay off any loans later, especially if we help (which we intend to do).

 

It is uncomfortable talking frankly about how one manages one's finances so hopefully this is helpful to someone.

 

HTH

Nan

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We also pay monthly to the college(s). And my kids summer earnings and work study earnings go toward the school bill. I want them to have skin in the game. Their loans and their earnings do this. Some kids who get everything paid for them take school less seriously. We assist where we can as I feel a degree is that important in today's age, but even if we were unlimitedly wealthy I don't think I'd give them a total free ride.

 

I'm really proud of oldest. This year (junior year in college) he's been able to pay almost his whole bill (amount left to pay after aid) by himself. We've still paid for books first semester and cell phone + insurance, but he's well on his way to sustainable independence - with a degree.

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There are so many myths concerning financial aid. One thing that I hear people say is that they don't bother with the FAFSA because their kid won't qualify for anything. Some schools require the FAFSA even if you kid is going to receive merit aid. It is a mistake to dismiss it!

 

Further, just because your neighbor or the child of a guy at work does not receive financial aid does not mean that your student will not. FAFSA looks at the assets of the student--some kids have money from grandma, summer jobs or because of parents like me who invested every five and twenty dollar gift their kid received.

 

FAFSA does not look at the value of your home or what is in your retirement accounts. (The CSS Profile used by certain private schools does.) It is true that farmers, landlords and those with second homes (like the inherited cottage or mountain cabin) do have an asset that FAFSA considers.

 

There have been stories in the popular media about students with $100K+ in debt. These outliers present an extreme situation--often grad or professional students. The average amount of student loan debt is $25K--about what a student receives from Stafford loans by filling out the FAFSA. As others have noted, the FAFSA gives a number called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). A college then uses the EFC and their own internal calculations to offer an aid package--which as Kareni noted will probably include the Stafford loan and possibly work study. There will be an amount that the family (student and parents) is expected to pay. This is where the parent has to decide if he is going to raid savings, manage the bill in monthly installments, sell stock, take out a home equity, use a Parents PLUS loan, beg grandma, etc. Colleges do not force parents to take out substantial loans. Colleges do expect that parents have saved. (Some people disagree with the latter expectation but that does not change the reality.)

 

Enjoy those beans and rice, college parents! ;)

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beg grandma,

 

Enjoy those beans and rice, college parents! ;)

 

If begging grandma, make sure grandma gives the $$ to the parent or the student. If she gives it directly to the college it becomes an "Outside Scholarship" and usually affects aid. The EFC amount must come solely from the parent or student.

 

We've learned we like beans and rice! (And they're healthy too...) We also have a garden and get a deer or two each year. Then, of course, many "extras" are out for a few years. Such is life. For us, it's worth it.

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There are so many myths concerning financial aid. One thing that I hear people say is that they don't bother with the FAFSA because their kid won't qualify for anything. Some schools require the FAFSA even if you kid is going to receive merit aid. It is a mistake to dismiss it!

 

Further, just because your neighbor or the child of a guy at work does not receive financial aid does not mean that your student will not. FAFSA looks at the assets of the student--some kids have money from grandma, summer jobs or because of parents like me who invested every five and twenty dollar gift their kid received.

 

FAFSA does not look at the value of your home or what is in your retirement accounts. (The CSS Profile used by certain private schools does.) It is true that farmers, landlords and those with second homes (like the inherited cottage or mountain cabin) do have an asset that FAFSA considers.

 

There have been stories in the popular media about students with $100K+ in debt. These outliers present an extreme situation--often grad or professional students. The average amount of student loan debt is $25K--about what a student receives from Stafford loans by filling out the FAFSA. As others have noted, the FAFSA gives a number called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). A college then uses the EFC and their own internal calculations to offer an aid package--which as Kareni noted will probably include the Stafford loan and possibly work study. There will be an amount that the family (student and parents) is expected to pay. This is where the parent has to decide if he is going to raid savings, manage the bill in monthly installments, sell stock, take out a home equity, use a Parents PLUS loan, beg grandma, etc. Colleges do not force parents to take out substantial loans. Colleges do expect that parents have saved. (Some people disagree with the latter expectation but that does not change the reality.)

 

Enjoy those beans and rice, college parents! ;)

 

Here's what bothers me, though...(and I hope this isn't too much of a hijack for the OP)

 

To me it seems unwise to select colleges, get accepted, get the heart set on one and then play the hopety-hope game for what help you'll get and what you'll be awarded.

 

My oldest is a sophomore in high school, so I am only guessing at what we are actually going to do, but as I look at it now, I think we will not fill out FAFSA at all. I expect that we will design a plan that we know we can afford without debt. If dd does get merit-based scholarships, well then that will just be so much the better.

 

Like Margaret in CO said, we have substantial "on paper" assets. We have rental properties, a vacation property and liquid accounts with money in them. My children do also have savings bonds from grandma and UTMA accounts of their own. It seems smarter to me to select a more modest school that we know we could pay for entirely from money we already have saved and, if necessary, current income.

 

Honestly, the prospect of "financial aid packages" reminds me of those car dealerships where the salesperson keeps annoyingly asking me, "Where do you need your monthly payment to be?" I don't want to deal on those terms. I want to deal on the entire price of the car. Paying for college has so many more potential pitfalls than making a car purchase, it only seems that much more critical to me that one chooses colleges with knowledge of what they ultimately might pay.

 

I'm open to wisdom coming from BTDT college moms (and dads), but I don't understand why I hear so much advice that sounds backwards to me. The part I bolded above sounds backwards to me. Unless I'm misunderstanding the order, the kid is already concretely planning to go to XYZ University when the parent(s) are getting their good news/bad news of their EFC. That's like going into the car dealership saying, "I must have this particular car, so how can you get my monthly payment to $627 or less a month?" To me, the wiser way is, "I have $20K for a car, I've done the research and expect to buy one of these. Give me your best car for that price."

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To me, the wiser way is, "I have $20K for a car, I've done the research and expect to buy one of these. Give me your best car for that price."

 

Yes, that's basically what I suggest you do. Be really up front with your kids about you are willing and able to pay for college. What you get for that money, will depend on a lot of individual variables though - the student's academic profile, the types of colleges they are interested in, your financial situation, etc. It is not always easy to predict ahead of time what a particular kind of school or what particular school will cost you. I regularly see students who find they get a better bottom line price at a school that initially has a higher sticker price so you can't just go by sticker price.

 

he main thing I caution against is what a lot of parents do. They say to their kids "if you get in we'll work it out" because really the parents don't believe the child is going to get in or they just can't stand to say no... and then late senior year it gets really ugly. Better to be up front, start with research from early in the process, and allow your child time to make plans.

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...Unless I'm misunderstanding the order, the kid is already concretely planning to go to XYZ University when the parent(s) are getting their good news/bad news of their EFC. That's like going into the car dealership saying, "I must have this particular car, so how can you get my monthly payment to $627 or less a month?" To me, the wiser way is, "I have $20K for a car, I've done the research and expect to buy one of these. Give me your best car for that price."

 

Well, I can try to explain in our particular case. In our case, there just weren't that many colleges that met my children's criteria. The older ones wanted specific majors that is only offered at four or five colleges in the country. They didn't want to be that far from home. That leaves us few choices. We had a similar problem but not quite so bad with the youngest. His major is fairly common. He, too, didn't want to be far away, but his idea of far away was a lot closer than his brothers (having watched his brothers deal with a five hour commute). That cut down his options considerably. He applied to colleges within five or six hours. One of them we could afford with no financial aid, but it is not a good fit for him. It had his major, but it didn't have some of the other things he wanted, like the ability to travel and a hands-on, project-oriented, not huge program. Yes, those are wants not needs, but the wants take on a rather needy flavour when you consider that if the student isn't happy at the college and engaged in his education, he is a lot less likely to get through the program and actually graduate. An unfinished cheap college education might well be more expensive than a finished expensive college education. That left him with ONE really good choice and a bunch of VERY much less-good choices. So - heart set on that one choice, he applied. And applied for financial aid. If he could get enough aid to knock the price down to something more like a state school education, then we could cobble together the rest. You are absolutely right. In an ideal world, of COURSE you wouldn't tell the car salesman the highest possible monthly payments you are able to make. But in an less-than-ideal world, sometimes you wind up doing something very like that. Sigh. Colleges play this huge guessing game about exactly that number for the students they really want (with the aid of all that information you give them) and then for everyone else, they figure there are always students to replace yours if you don't want to pay that much. My students, much as I love them, are not brilliant, million APs and inventors of the widget that is going to save the world students. They are much more ordinary than that. So we cobble together a mix of loans, grants, scholarships, savings, and monthly payments and try to make it all work.

 

I'm not sure how other parents do it, but I suspect that their reasons will sound very much like ours - one college is a much better fit than the others, or the only fit that doesn't require an airplane ride (another expense).

 

Nan

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Here's what bothers me, though...(and I hope this isn't too much of a hijack for the OP)

 

To me it seems unwise to select colleges, get accepted, get the heart set on one and then play the hopety-hope game for what help you'll get and what you'll be awarded.

 

My oldest is a sophomore in high school, so I am only guessing at what we are actually going to do, but as I look at it now, I think we will not fill out FAFSA at all. I expect that we will design a plan that we know we can afford without debt. If dd does get merit-based scholarships, well then that will just be so much the better.

 

Like Margaret in CO said, we have substantial "on paper" assets. We have rental properties, a vacation property and liquid accounts with money in them. My children do also have savings bonds from grandma and UTMA accounts of their own. It seems smarter to me to select a more modest school that we know we could pay for entirely from money we already have saved and, if necessary, current income.

 

Honestly, the prospect of "financial aid packages" reminds me of those car dealerships where the salesperson keeps annoyingly asking me, "Where do you need your monthly payment to be?" I don't want to deal on those terms. I want to deal on the entire price of the car. Paying for college has so many more potential pitfalls than making a car purchase, it only seems that much more critical to me that one chooses colleges with knowledge of what they ultimately might pay.

 

I'm open to wisdom coming from BTDT college moms (and dads), but I don't understand why I hear so much advice that sounds backwards to me. The part I bolded above sounds backwards to me. Unless I'm misunderstanding the order, the kid is already concretely planning to go to XYZ University when the parent(s) are getting their good news/bad news of their EFC. That's like going into the car dealership saying, "I must have this particular car, so how can you get my monthly payment to $627 or less a month?" To me, the wiser way is, "I have $20K for a car, I've done the research and expect to buy one of these. Give me your best car for that price."

 

I think we are approaching college from two different angles.

 

I see you saying that you can afford X, so therefore you will only apply to schools that have tuition and fees that cost X or less.

 

Like Nan, we looked at colleges that would provide the best academic and environmental fit for our son. As a graduate of a Liberal Arts College, I encouraged my son to consider this experience over the state university. Yes, we could afford the state uni without the financial aid that you so despise. But I must admit that a private LAC was not in our budget despite our high EFC. We knew that a private LAC would only be affordable with merit aid.

 

Merit aid is a form of financial aid. If your child is sufficiently bright to earn scholarships, you will turn them down? Interesting message. (Please note that some colleges will not give merit aid without FAFSA or the CSS Profile.)

 

You are coming from a point of affluence. So am I. My son is not accruing debt in college. We are paying the difference after his merit aid is subtracted from the comprehensive fee. Not everyone on this board is so fortunate.

 

Further, I think it can be a disservice to take the cheap route even if that is the only thing a parent can afford. My CC, for example, has limited offerings. A student who wishes to transfer into an engineering college would be wasting his time spending two years there. It is cheap but is it a good fit?

 

Jane

 

P.S. I think you missed something in Margaret's post. It was cheaper for her daughter to attend Hillsdale (private LAC) than a public uni because of scholarships, i.e. financial aid.

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I think we will not fill out FAFSA at all. I expect that we will design a plan that we know we can afford without debt. If dd does get merit-based scholarships, well then that will just be so much the better.

 

If you WANT to spend money on college, then by all means apply to colleges you can afford and do not apply for financial aid.

 

BUT we chose a different way. Our kids applied to the colleges of their dreams with the understanding that if merit aid didn't work out favorably they could ot attend. And some schools didn't provide enough merit aid to enable our kids to attend, but several schools did!

 

In order to receive the merit aid, we needed to fill out both the Profile and the FAFSA during their senior year of high school, and we needed to fill out the FAFSA each subsequent year.

 

Was the aid worth the bother of filling out the FAFSA each year? You bet -- it's very rare to get paid thousands of dollars per hour for filling out a form!

 

Moral of the story --

 

1) if you do not let kids apply to the colleges of their dreams, they will never be able to go there. If the aid does not work out, they may not be able to attend, but I wanted reality, not parents, to shut the door.

 

2) If your kid receives merit aid, there is a very good chance that they will need to fill out the FAFSA.

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Yes, that's basically what I suggest you do. Be really up front with your kids about you are willing and able to pay for college. What you get for that money, will depend on a lot of individual variables though - the student's academic profile, the types of colleges they are interested in, your financial situation, etc. It is not always easy to predict ahead of time what a particular kind of school or what particular school will cost you. I regularly see students who find they get a better bottom line price at a school that initially has a higher sticker price so you can't just go by sticker price. he main thing I caution against is what a lot of parents do. They say to their kids "if you get in we'll work it out" because really the parents don't believe the child is going to get in or they just can't stand to say no... and then late senior year it gets really ugly. Better to be up front, start with research from early in the process, and allow your child time to make plans.

 

I've heard that, too, but I don't understand how a family takes steps toward a college without knowledge that that may be the case. IOW, if you can't at least narrow the field based on sticker price, how can you be well-assured that you are aiming at a school that ends up costing way more than you imagined and then you are left with no good choice. You can only transfer to something you know you can afford, which makes your early-spent money a waste or you can incur debt against your better judgement. Trapped into a loan you didn't want because it's better than dropping out completely or transferring to a less expensive school.

 

But yeah - I agree with you - I would never in a million years tell my kid(s) that I'll work it out wherever they get accepted and wish to go.

 

Well, I can try to explain in our particular case. In our case, there just weren't that many colleges that met my children's criteria. The older ones wanted specific majors that is only offered at four or five colleges in the country. They didn't want to be that far from home. That leaves us few choices. I understand how that influences the decision. I think I even recall previously the specific major - was it actuarial studies? Or I might be thinking of a different member here. My oldest child has no well-defined career ambitions. Truthfully, her happiest dreams revolve around getting married and having something like 8 kids and 3 cats! If she wanted to be a surgeon or an astronaut, I might consider her choice of college more closely, but given her goals, I don't think it will matter much where she goes. We had a similar problem but not quite so bad with the youngest. His major is fairly common. He, too, didn't want to be far away, but his idea of far away was a lot closer than his brothers (having watched his brothers deal with a five hour commute). That cut down his options considerably. He applied to colleges within five or six hours. One of them we could afford with no financial aid, but it is not a good fit for him. It had his major, but it didn't have some of the other things he wanted, like the ability to travel and a hands-on, project-oriented, not huge program. Yes, those are wants not needs, but the wants take on a rather needy flavour when you consider that if the student isn't happy at the college and engaged in his education, he is a lot less likely to get through the program and actually graduate. An unfinished cheap college education might well be more expensive than a finished expensive college education. I hear you on this, but we'll part company on it. Those kinds of wants don't mean much to me. Probably in part because I am a student in college as an older adult, so my own options are limited to colleges within about 45 minutes from my home! :) That left him with ONE really good choice and a bunch of VERY much less-good choices. So - heart set on that one choice, he applied. And applied for financial aid. If he could get enough aid to knock the price down to something more like a state school education, then we could cobble together the rest. You are absolutely right. In an ideal world, of COURSE you wouldn't tell the car salesman the highest possible monthly payments you are able to make. But in an less-than-ideal world, sometimes you wind up doing something very like that. Sigh. Colleges play this huge guessing game about exactly that number for the students they really want (with the aid of all that information you give them) and then for everyone else, they figure there are always students to replace yours if you don't want to pay that much.I wonder, though, if part of why they play this game is because the great majority of families are playing along. Just as the car dealer holds the cards if you demonstrate that you *MUST have THIS car.* They now know you will pay as much as they tell you to for as far into the future as they can stretch the loan. I'm just plain reluctant to show the colleges, "Okay - here are all the sources of potential money we can tap. Now, how much do you want us to pay?" Is that not what you do when you apply for financial aid with the hope that they give you a package you can accept? Also, don't you then have to apply afresh every new year? What happens if they make it very attractive for years one and two and then not so much for the finishing years? My students, much as I love them, are not brilliant, million APs and inventors of the widget that is going to save the world students. They are much more ordinary than that. So we cobble together a mix of loans, grants, scholarships, savings, and monthly payments and try to make it all work. I'm not sure how other parents do it, but I suspect that their reasons will sound very much like ours - one college is a much better fit than the others, or the only fit that doesn't require an airplane ride (another expense). Nan
I understand that - and I'm very grateful to you and anyone who is willing to share their experience. I'm spending money right now on a private high school for dd when I could send her to the good public high school instead, so apparently, there *are* factors besides price. That school is a much better fit for her and that's what I wanted for her, so there we are. :)
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If you WANT to spend money on college, then by all means apply to colleges you can afford and do not apply for financial aid.

 

BUT we chose a different way. Our kids applied to the colleges of their dreams with the understanding that if merit aid didn't work out favorably they could ot attend. And some schools didn't provide enough merit aid to enable our kids to attend, but several schools did!

 

In order to receive the merit aid, we needed to fill out both the Profile and the FAFSA during their senior year of high school, and we needed to fill out the FAFSA each subsequent year.

 

Was the aid worth the bother of filling out the FAFSA each year? You bet -- it's very rare to get paid thousands of dollars per hour for filling out a form!

 

Moral of the story --

 

1) if you do not let kids apply to the colleges of their dreams, they will never be able to go there. If the aid does not work out, they may not be able to attend, but I wanted reality, not parents, to shut the door.

 

2) If your kid receives merit aid, there is a very good chance that they will need to fill out the FAFSA.

 

How does this work in practical terms, though? How do you apply to colleges with no idea if you can go? How many colleges do you choose to apply for it you have no idea what the offerings in aid will be? Also, if we were talking strictly about grants, not loans, then - awesome. Let's see what you've got. But that's not what happens. Loans are not free money. They are debt.

 

If my child got an incredible merit scholarship, then sure, I would fill out the FAFSA. It's not the bother of a form that I want to avoid. It's the one-down position. "Look - here's all the money you can consider available for college." That's what I don't want. Those resource avenues are not sitting there just waiting to be spent on college. They are there for other reasons. If they were giving my kid a huge amount of money that practically pays her whole way, then sure - I'll fill out the form.

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How does this work in practical terms, though? How do you apply to colleges with no idea if you can go? How many colleges do you choose to apply for it you have no idea what the offerings in aid will be? Also, if we were talking strictly about grants, not loans, then - awesome. Let's see what you've got. But that's not what happens. Loans are not free money. They are debt.

 

If my child got an incredible merit scholarship, then sure, I would fill out the FAFSA. It's not the bother of a form that I want to avoid. It's the one-down position. "Look - here's all the money you can consider available for college." That's what I don't want. Those resource avenues are not sitting there just waiting to be spent on college. They are there for other reasons. If they were giving my kid a huge amount of money that practically pays her whole way, then sure - I'll fill out the form.

 

Again, we return to the net price vs. the sticker. Some colleges meet financial need. Some give a few full ride merit scholarships. Some give larger (not full) merit scholarships to more students. We as high school counselors determine both what is the appropriate fit for our students but also the appropriate fit for our family finances.

 

Of course, one does not know whether merit aid will be offered until the student applies--and often not until the FAFSA or CSS Profile is filled out. Essentially one is playing odds. For example, colleges want diverse populations. Your geographic location may be under represented at the school. Or maybe your student plays the bassoon. Or perhaps he has had an interesting achievement (competition or award) that has grabbed an Admissions Officer.

 

Merit aid, i.e. financial aid, is a black box. One school may offer grants, another loans. You don't know unless you try.

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I think we are approaching college from two different angles.

 

I see you saying that you can afford X, so therefore you will only apply to schools that have tuition and fees that cost X or less. That does seem logical to me. See above. I don't understand how one does it otherwise. So, as an example, one college that (based on their marketing materials and nothing else) my dd likes is somewhere in the $40K/year price. Plus, it is farther from us than I consider ideal. For these reasons, I am not generating any excitement or making moves that indicate I consider that college likely. It may be that they have some amazing financial package to offer her, but why would I put her heart on the line as if that is a possibility, only to learn that it's just as far-fetched as I originally imagined?

 

Like Nan, we looked at colleges that would provide the best academic and environmental fit for our son. As a graduate of a Liberal Arts College, I encouraged my son to consider this experience over the state university. Yes, we could afford the state uni without the financial aid that you so despise. But I must admit that a private LAC was not in our budget despite our high EFC. We knew that a private LAC would only be affordable with merit aid.

 

Merit aid is a form of financial aid. If your child is sufficiently bright to earn scholarships, you will turn them down? Interesting message. (Please note that some colleges will not give merit aid without FAFSA or the CSS Profile.)

 

See above. If it were truly a scholarship (not a loan in sheep's clothing), then sure, I'll fill out forms. It's not the forms I care about. It's the posture of being at their mercy.

 

You are coming from a point of affluence. So am I. My son is not accruing debt in college. We are paying the difference after his merit aid is subtracted from the comprehensive fee. Not everyone on this board is so fortunate.

 

Of course. I understand this. I grew up in a family so poor, I never even thought about college until I was in my 20's. It barely even registered as a possible course of action. But in one sense, having nothing is a type of advantage in financial aid. If my parents had filled out FAFSA forms, it would have made no difference, because every line would be "$0.00." No funds. No savings. No money in the sock monkey. No passive income streams. No nothing. There would be nothing to reveal.

 

Further, I think it can be a disservice to take the cheap route even if that is the only thing a parent can afford. My CC, for example, has limited offerings. A student who wishes to transfer into an engineering college would be wasting his time spending two years there. It is cheap but is it a good fit?

 

Again - for some students with some career ambitions, I see what you mean. Dd's not in that category. I would also say the reverse is true - there are kids who go to expensive colleges when it makes no difference for their future.

 

Jane

 

P.S. I think you missed something in Margaret's post. It was cheaper for her daughter to attend Hillsdale (private LAC) than a public uni because of scholarships, i.e. financial aid.

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Quill wrote:

See above. I don't understand how one does it otherwise. So, as an example, one college that (based on their marketing materials and nothing else) my dd likes is somewhere in the $40K/year price. Plus, it is farther from us than I consider ideal. For these reasons, I am not generating any excitement or making moves that indicate I consider that college likely. It may be that they have some amazing financial package to offer her, but why would I put her heart on the line as if that is a possibility, only to learn that it's just as far-fetched as I originally imagined?

 

Where does your daughter stand in terms of standardized scores? Top 25%? Does the school give merit aid (they will say this on the website)? What does the Net Price Calculator indicate?

 

These are factors that entered my consideration before I dismissed any school.

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I've heard that, too, but I don't understand how a family takes steps toward a college without knowledge that that may be the case. IOW, if you can't at least narrow the field based on sticker price, how can you be well-assured that you are aiming at a school that ends up costing way more than you imagined and then you are left with no good choice. You can only transfer to something you know you can afford, which makes your early-spent money a waste or you can incur debt against your better judgement. Trapped into a loan you didn't want because it's better than dropping out completely or transferring to a less expensive school.

 

 

 

The reason not to narrow the field based entirely on sticker price is that for most people sticker price is not a very good indication of the actual price, nor is it a great indiciation that the school will be a good fit for the student's needs. It depends greatly on the family's individual circumstances and the student's academic profile, but it is not uncommon that the lowest sticker price school can actually end up being the most expensive option once the student considers financial aid and merit offers.

 

I'm not sure I understood the later part of your comment. The date for final college decisions is May 1st. Before that date the student has the information they need to make an informed decision. They will have received back a written budget and statement of awards from the colleges they've been accepted at. They know what college will cost. While there is a possibility that circumstances could radically change during freshman year (low grades and the loss of a merit scholarship, family wins the lottery, etc.) for most students awards will be fairly consistant throughout college.

 

My suggestion is if you want to get a ballpark idea of costs do an EFC calculator.

For most students it makes sense to apply to several colleges and to allow for the possibility of multiple offers so you can compare and make an informed decision.

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I would take a middle of the road approach. You apply to the schools you know you can afford and would work for your child's interests. Then, if your child has other schools she likes, you apply and see what happens financially. If it turns out to be affordable, then she makes a decision. If it is not affordable, then she attends the school that was applied to as a financial safety school. If this is the plan, you make sure your daughter understands the expensive school is a longshot and doesn't have her heart set on that school no matter what. I can see how this might be an issue with some kids.

 

 

The reason not to narrow the field based entirely on sticker price is that for most people sticker price is not a very good indication of the actual price, nor is it a great indiciation that the school will be a good fit for the student's needs. It depends greatly on the family's individual circumstances and the student's academic profile, but it is not uncommon that the lowest sticker price school can actually end up being the most expensive option once the student considers financial aid and merit offers....

 

My suggestion is if you want to get a ballpark idea of costs do an EFC calculator.

For most students it makes sense to apply to several colleges and to allow for the possibility of multiple offers so you can compare and make an informed decision.

 

I'm not disagreeing with Barbara, but this has not been the case in our limited experience. Thus, your mileage may vary also.

 

I shared part of our experience earlier in this thread about an expensive private school. She had previously been awarded their top merit scholarship, this was done without need of the FASFA form. Our EFC was less than 1 semester of tuition at this school. The school offfered only loans as financial aid. The first year loans were equal to 2x our EFC.

 

Today, she received her financial aid package from Drexel. This is an expensive school with a yearly tuition alone of basically 3x our EFC. This school has a big co-op program, and you pay reduced tuition during your co-op semesters since it will take 5 years to graduate. Therefore, she received two financial aid reports, one for a five-year co-op degree and one for a four-year degree. She had already received $25,000 in merit aid from the school without the FASFA form. In addition to the merit aid, she was offered 1,500 in work study and 5,000 in loans, which I agree is debt not an award. That leaves a balance on the four-year cost of nearly 2-1/2x our EFC. For the "less expensive" annual cost of the five-year co-op, we are to pay 2x our EFC.

 

In theory, these schools should want my kid. She has an ACT score of 35, which is well above both school's top 25% mark; she has well above a 4.0 in mainly honors and AP classes at a top-ranked public high school. Her unweighted average is nearly a 4.0. She has completed 8 dual-enrollment classes. She has won academic awards at school, played multiple school sports every year, and worked while going to school, etc. For one of these schools, she would definitely offer geographic diversity. For both she would give gender diversity in her major. I guess they would say they do want her, because both offerred "big" merit awards, however, even $25,000 scholarships don't make those schools affordable.

 

All that said, my kid only applied to these schools, because they offered free applications and had a major she wants. I don't know if the money would have been different if she had done things to look interested in the schools. She has done that with she school she wants to attend, an OOS state university. She has already been awarded merit schoolarhips there that bring the cost down to nearly our EFC. We have not seen their financial aid package yet, based on the private schools packages I'm not hopeful. Plus, this school is popular for kids from our area. She still has not received financial aid reports from her other two applications, 1 private university and 1 OOS state university. She has been awarded merit scholarships to the state university, but she has not received any money news from the private school. None of the schools were liberal arts colleges in case that makes a difference.

 

Good luck to everyone trying to help their students figure out the right path.

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Quill - Here's one possible option that you could consider if the dollars are doable for you. Friend's of ours have three children, all very good all-around students. They also both have fairly good incomes. They knew they would qualify for little or no financial aid, except at the most expensive schools. So they told their children they would give them the equivalent of the cost of our state's flagship university, and if the college they chose cost more, they would have to make up the difference with merit aid, summer work, loans, etc. As it turns out, they all chose the same private school which did cost more than our state U, but not in the $50+ range. They all received merit scholarships and did different types of work (not federally funded work-study, as they did not qualify). I believe two of the children also needed small loan amounts, and the parents agreed to be the bank for them. So even though they had debt, it wasn't the traditional type.

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Hi L.C.

You may already know all this and have tried it, but just hate to see your very bright and talented DD is such a financial crunch for college, so below are some ideas, FWIW! BEST of luck in your college journey! Warmly, Lori D.

 

 

 

Schools vary on how much of a percent of the cost of attendance they can offer -- some only offer about 50-60%, so right off the top you'll be paying more out of pocket, and receive less overall from the financial aid package. You might check into school profiles and see which can offer financial aid packages (loans grants scholarships) of 80%. Here is a step-by-step of how to find schools that meet 80% or more of financial need. Here's a list of the 62 "most generous" schools in meeting financial need. And, here's a list of schools that go the extra mile to make it financially possible to attend.

 

Some schools have a lot more endowment monies (which translates as more scholarships) than others. Typically, state universities have a lot less endowment monies than private schools. Again check school profiles. College profile school list.

 

Small schools and lower-tier schools may very well offer your DD more scholarship monies, as her GPA and test scores would raise their statistics favorably. Check college profiles and see what the average ACT score is -- and then look for schools where her ACT score 35 would place her in the top 5-10% of students at that college. That makes her a "big fish in a small pond", which can be a very favorable financial proposition for your DD! I don't know the profile of the schools DD has applied to, but it's very possible that the average ACT score may be very high -- like 32, which means 35 is not statistically significant enough to be offering your DD significant merit aid. She would really have to stand out in *other* ways at such a school. Just something to consider!

 

Another possibility, especially if one of the schools comes back with a much more attractive financial aid package is negociate for more merit aid from a competitive school. Show what the other school is offering.

 

Also, does she know what department through which she'd be getting a degree? If there's a lot of overlap and getting the degree can come through one of several departments, start checking the individual departments and see who has more money to hand out as department scholarships (and internships!).

 

Here is a good list of basic questions to ask in comparing college financial aid packages. A lot of scholarships are non-renewable. Or hard to hold on to. Or prevent you from accepting outside scholarship money, or other inside scholarship money. So it's good to really understand the terms of the scholarship and what the likelihood of more money in future years at that school will be.

 

Another option -- but one to do under the guidance of a knowledgeable professional -- is to remove as many assets as possible from the student's name and your names to a family member not attending college, and submit changes to the FAFSA for a recalculated EFC, which would then give you a higher financial aid package, showing more need, which might result in DD being offered more merit aid. The HEFAR Group gives free college financial aid planning consultation, with the hope that you will remember them at a later time when you need other types of financial planning; they specialize in helping you find ways to lower your EFC. (In no way promoting them or work for them -- I just heard a financial aid session given by them, and found their info helpful and wanted to pass it on.)

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Quill -

 

Answering your answer to me (lol)...

 

I think I see what the problem is. We didn't go into this blind. We had more information than you are picturing. We also probably had more trust in the "system" than you appear to have.

 

We don't think of this as car buying. We buy rust buckets that have no value other than to get us back and forth semi-reliably. We think of this as (imagine this in a font like black letter or something) AN EDUCATION. It has value beyond its immediately perceivable usefulness. It will last a lifetime, barring head injuries or senility. It is part of what we are doing to "make" the adults we want our children to become. We always knew it was going to cost a fortune. Private schools cost a fortune when I was going to college, just like they do now. (State schools are much more expensive, comparitively. Community colleges seem now to be about what the state schools used to cost.) When I talked about having a fourth child, the first thing my husband said was, "No way - there is no way I could get the last one through college." This is a major life expense, along with buying a house and retirement, that we've planned for from the time our children were little. In our case, the EFC is actually something that we can manage. Will it be easy? No. Can we do it? Yes. We've been planning on it. (And yes, perhaps makes us part of the problem, as you pointed out.)

 

That said, we aren't going into this blind. Did we let our sons apply to a college that we thought they had NO chance of being able to go to? No. Of course not. There are sites that give some indication of how students are paying for a particular college. Colleges themselves try to give you some idea of how much aid they give out, of what type. There is a government site that gives you information. We had the one interested in a private school apply to several might-be-do-able privates, some publics, and a definately-doable public, just in case the others didn't work out. Yes, he a very clear favourite amongst them all, so clear he didn't want to apply anywhere else, but we all knew he would be ok if it didn't work out. Disappointed but ok, The financial safety school had many of the same features as his first choice, along with a few major disadvantages. He lucked out because his first choice was a college that offered the type of aid we thought he had some chance of receiving, judging by all the information we could gather. (Don't forget to check whether scholarships are renewable each year and whether the terms for keeping the scholarship are reasonable. We liked that the first choice of all three of ours were open about this information and had reasonable terms. Some colleges are not.) There are some things about both his first choice and his financial safety that make them truly unique. We did some very careful calculations for all three of our sons on the amount of debt we thought they could manage, based on their majors and expected incomes. Yes, for youngest it was a gamble whether his first choice would work out, but it wasn't a thousand-to-one gamble. We thought there was a very good chance it would work. And he had an acceptable plan B and plan C (and four other less desirable plans, just in case).

 

Would it have hurt if it hadn't worked out? Of course. Dreams that don't come true always hurt. Sometimes they hurt for a whole lifetime. Dreams are just like that. But.. that is why they call their dream school their DREAM school - because it might not work out and they know that. It is hard to keep your child from having dreams. All you can do is try to make them resilient enough that if one dream doesn't work out, they are able come up with a new dream, and teach them always to have a plan B and a plan C.

 

Anyway, I think perhaps you didn't know that there are ways to estimate, or at least guess, how much your student might really pay for a college? Or you are one of those families, like Margaret in CO or my aquaintance with the unsellable family farm, for whom the EFC varies wildly from what you are able to pay?

 

Nan

 

ETA - Lori D's post contains lots of information for estimating how much a college is really going to cost.

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Quill - Here's one possible option that you could consider if the dollars are doable for you. Friend's of ours have three children, all very good all-around students. They also both have fairly good incomes. They knew they would qualify for little or no financial aid, except at the most expensive schools. So they told their children they would give them the equivalent of the cost of our state's flagship university, and if the college they chose cost more, they would have to make up the difference with merit aid, summer work, loans, etc. As it turns out, they all chose the same private school which did cost more than our state U, but not in the $50+ range. They all received merit scholarships and did different types of work (not federally funded work-study, as they did not qualify). I believe two of the children also needed small loan amounts, and the parents agreed to be the bank for them. So even though they had debt, it wasn't the traditional type.

 

 

This is what we have done with our kids---one is now a college sophomore and the other a high school senior. We have an affordable state research university ($22K all-in), with nationally "ranked" colleges and departments. Students come from around the country and world to attend this institution.

 

We started discussing college choice and costs during ds's sophomore year of high school (which means younger dd has been hearing about this since she was in fourth grade!). We talked about what loan repayment means to a new college graduate. We told the kids that they could apply to financial reach schools as long as they applied to the state university and as long as they did not "fall in love" with one of the reach schools because nothing is certain.

 

Ds chose to attend the state school, as he would have been required to take loans of about $5k per year at the other schools.

 

Dd has a big decision to make as one of the pricey LACs (seriously, $52k) has given her enough scholarship money to equal the cost of the state school.

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Today, she received her financial aid package from Drexel. This is an expensive school with a yearly tuition alone of basically 3x our EFC. This school has a big co-op program, and you pay reduced tuition during your co-op semesters since it will take 5 years to graduate. Therefore, she received two financial aid reports, one for a five-year co-op degree and one for a four-year degree. She had already received $25,000 in merit aid from the school without the FASFA form. In addition to the merit aid, she was offered 1,500 in work study and 5,000 in loans, which I agree is debt not an award. That leaves a balance on the four-year cost of nearly 2-1/2x our EFC. For the "less expensive" annual cost of the five-year co-op, we are to pay 2x our EFC.

 

 

 

Just one data point for what it is worth (sharing this with permission)

I have a student this year who was accepted to Drexel along with seven other schools - a mix of private and out of state publics. Drexel was a last minute add on to his list because he was intrigued by the co-op and it was a free application. His merit package is a bit less than what you are describing making it the most expensive of the options he has to choose from. Not just the most expensive but radically more expensive than his other options. It was a very easy decision to take it off the list.

That goes to show...

1. With those targeted free applications Drexel is doing exactly the right thing to raise their ranking. They are getting high scoring kids to apply. That doesn't mean it is a good choice for merit aid.

2. It is really important to apply to enough schools. This student can drop Drexel off the list without a hesitation because he's got other options. His most affordable schools do not have the lowest sticker prices. They are schools that gave him the most money because they really wanted him. Had he just gone with sticker price he'd be looking at a totally different set of options at this point.

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Quill -

 

Answering your answer to me (lol)...

 

I think I see what the problem is. We didn't go into this blind. We had more information than you are picturing. We also probably had more trust in the "system" than you appear to have.

 

To be sure, I don't have much trust in the "system." I do picture it as full of question marks. It is possible that, having not done it yet, I don't get the picture of how this works. That's why I'm asking. :) I don't see how people can commit to a school without comprehensive knowledge of how the financial picture will happen for no less than four years. My (limited) understanding of merit scholarships is that they are most often for the first year only, unless your kid is a miracle-worker and gets a full ride or full tuition at the outset. I suppose that could happen, but I'm not counting on it.

 

We don't think of this as car buying. We buy rust buckets that have no value other than to get us back and forth semi-reliably. We think of this as (imagine this in a font like black letter or something) AN EDUCATION. It has value beyond its immediately perceivable usefulness. It will last a lifetime, barring head injuries or senility. It is part of what we are doing to "make" the adults we want our children to become. We always knew it was going to cost a fortune. Private schools cost a fortune when I was going to college, just like they do now. (State schools are much more expensive, comparitively. Community colleges seem now to be about what the state schools used to cost.) When I talked about having a fourth child, the first thing my husband said was, "No way - there is no way I could get the last one through college." This is a major life expense, along with buying a house and retirement, that we've planned for from the time our children were little. In our case, the EFC is actually something that we can manage. Will it be easy? No. Can we do it? Yes. We've been planning on it. (And yes, perhaps makes us part of the problem, as you pointed out.)

 

I agree and understand all of this. I value dd going to college; it's the reason I'm even having this conversation. We planned on it, too. There's money to be had. But there's not tens of thousands of dollars. I do still think cars have an analogy here. A Cadillac and a Ford will both drive me to the store. The state university and a dream college in Vermont will both grant dd a degree. I don't need the Cadillac if the Ford will do. (Although I happen to own a Cadillac, so maybe that's not a good analogy! :laugh: ) I just don't want her to start thinking we may get the Cadillac if, in the end, the Ford is what's feasible. Sometimes you didn't know you wanted something until it was presented as possible; then it seems like a let-down to settle for the Ford.

 

That said, we aren't going into this blind. Did we let our sons apply to a college that we thought they had NO chance of being able to go to? No. Of course not. There are sites that give some indication of how students are paying for a particular college. Colleges themselves try to give you some idea of how much aid they give out, of what type. There is a government site that gives you information. We had the one interested in a private school apply to several might-be-do-able privates, some publics, and a definately-doable public, just in case the others didn't work out. Yes, he a very clear favourite amongst them all, so clear he didn't want to apply anywhere else, but we all knew he would be ok if it didn't work out. Disappointed but ok, The financial safety school had many of the same features as his first choice, along with a few major disadvantages. He lucked out because his first choice was a college that offered the type of aid we thought he had some chance of receiving, judging by all the information we could gather. (Don't forget to check whether scholarships are renewable each year and whether the terms for keeping the scholarship are reasonable. We liked that the first choice of all three of ours were open about this information and had reasonable terms. Some colleges are not.) There are some things about both his first choice and his financial safety that make them truly unique. We did some very careful calculations for all three of our sons on the amount of debt we thought they could manage, based on their majors and expected incomes. Yes, for youngest it was a gamble whether his first choice would work out, but it wasn't a thousand-to-one gamble. We thought there was a very good chance it would work. And he had an acceptable plan B and plan C (and four other less desirable plans, just in case).

 

Would it have hurt if it hadn't worked out? Of course. Dreams that don't come true always hurt. Sometimes they hurt for a whole lifetime. Dreams are just like that. But.. that is why they call their dream school their DREAM school - because it might not work out and they know that. It is hard to keep your child from having dreams. All you can do is try to make them resilient enough that if one dream doesn't work out, they are able come up with a new dream, and teach them always to have a plan B and a plan C.

 

Anyway, I think perhaps you didn't know that there are ways to estimate, or at least guess, how much your student might really pay for a college? Or you are one of those families, like Margaret in CO or my aquaintance with the unsellable family farm, for whom the EFC varies wildly from what you are able to pay?

 

I am grateful for the EFC calculator linked above, as I did not know that was available, but I still am skeptical. I know one cannot be certain that the EFC is a good ball-park and I don't want to run around in circles trying to figure out if we can afford this or this or that. I probably am pretty similar to Margaret in CO, based on what she said up-thread. We do have assets that are substantial, but that does not mean they are sitting there waiting to be college money. I have major doubts that the EFC will bear any similarity to our true payable range and, as I've said, I am debt-phobic, so I don't easily accept a loan as if it were the same as a grant/scholarship.

 

I really appreciate all the responses here and wish I had time to speak to each individually. Thanks!

 

Nan

 

ETA - Lori D's post contains lots of information for estimating how much a college is really going to cost.

 

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Quill My (limited) understanding of merit scholarships is that they are most often for the first year only, unless your kid is a miracle-worker and gets a full ride or full tuition at the outset. I suppose that could happen, but I'm not counting on it.

 

Just in case it helps, it is true that private scholarships from community organizations, businesses, etc. are often one time scholarships. However, the vast majority of merit scholarships come directly from the colleges and universities themselves. Most of these are for a set period usually defined as four years or eight semesters. They do come with conditions like maintaining a good GPA and remaining enrolled full time.

 

It is important to understand that students aren't just guessing when they make the college decision. They know where they've been accepted and they have the full offers in writing from colleges. They know how much they have in grants and what the terms and conditions are of those grants. They can look at loans and decide if they want to take them out. Sometimes people see this like it is like gambling - not all - at the time you make the decision you have all of the financial information you need to make a decision. Through research you can make informed guesses and improve the odds by selecting a good college list, but before your student accepts college offers you are not guessing.

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Quill wrote:

My (limited) understanding of merit scholarships is that they are most often for the first year only, unless your kid is a miracle-worker and gets a full ride or full tuition at the outset. I suppose that could happen, but I'm not counting on it.

Every merit scholarship my son was offered was a four year scholarship, subject to some sort of condition like GPA and completion of the appropriate number of credits annually. I have not heard of merit scholarships offered for a single year only. Perhaps you could link the colleges that do this to alert potential applicants.

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All three of my sons' main scholarships were four years, 2.0 scholarships. Oldest, as he went through school, received more scholarships and grants because he was a better risk (more likely to finish). We didn't do anything to find these. The school found them for him. Some of those extra ones were one-year ones, but it isn't as though he received them freshman year and then was left hanging. Once accepted, the school tried hard to find scholarships for him to make it easier for him to attend. This is where it pays to do your research. Some schools are much more open and helpful about financial aid, and other schools seem to try to trick students into attending only to leave them with no way to continue to attend. Here on the board, there have been some warnings about schools that did this. It is important to ask around to find out a college's reputation. See what other parents' experiences are. See whether the students are happy. Ask about things like the advising. A bad advisor or a lack of advising can cost you an extra year. Ask if the classes fill up, keeping students from being able to take prerequisites or the requirements for their major. That can also cost you an extra year. Ask if the professors are easy to contact. If not, that too can cost you an extra year, since you may wind up dropping crucial classes because you can't get hold of the professor to ask questions. Ask about what sort of tutoring is available. Again, this can make the difference between passing a class and flunking it and having to go an extra year. Look at how the semesters are structured. Are they structured in a way that will work for your student? There is at least one college in which the students take their classes one at a time, very intensively. I'm willing to bet that it would take a few months for my sons to adjust to a schedule like that, wasted months that would have to be repeated. What about things like study abroad? Some students want this to be part of their college education and this can be difficult with some majors. (That was one of the attractive things about my youngest's school - he can go abroad despite being in a major which makes this difficult.) Some schools have an emphasis on great books and the classics. Others have an emphasis on improving the world. Others have an emphasis on ethics. Others don't care. Those are things which flavour all the classes and experiences at a particular college. Is the student population mostly commuting? That may mean that many of the extra things - opportunities to participate in theatre or music groups, for example, are half dead. Much of the education happens during the extras like that. Is the student population all local? Is it diverse? Again, that can make the education broader. Are the professors understandable? Or do many of them have heavy accents? That can cost you an extra semester, if you have to drop a crucial class because you can't understand your prof. Are the classes huge lectures with no tutorials or study sections with a TA? Again, if your student isn't going to learn well in that format, the adjustment may cost you an extra semester. A college near us has a student population that is very apathetic and won't discuss things or participate in projects (we know profs there). We did not want our students there, for example. If they went there, they'd get the piece of paper but it wouldn't be much of an education. We wanted our students to be challenged at school for the same reason. Not all schools would have challenged them. Some schools have a campus that is spread out along a city street - not suitable for my woods-and-water kids. Those are the sorts of things I mean when I say that some schools weren't a good fit for my child. Not fluffy extras that don't really matter, but things that are crucial either to their being able to finish without taking an extra year, or things that were crucial to making college an education and not just a piece of paper.

 

Nan

 

ETA - You know, nobody MAKES you pay for any particular sort of education. If you think that your local state school will provide your child with a fine education, then by all means, forget about applying to dream schools and just apply there. We are all trying to explain why we are willing to let our children try applying for a few expensive schools that offer good aid and then waiting to see what happens. We fill out the FAFSA and the CSS profile forms because that is how colleges take the aid they have available and divy it up between the students. The best (or most desirable) students get the merit aid and the poorest students get the need-based aid. It isn't a great system, but I can't think how else they would do it? This business of colleges having a certain amount to give (or loan) each year and trying to figure out which students to give how much is part of what makes this different than buying a car. Nobody is making you participate. You are welcome to take the amount you have saved, find a college that costs that much, and send your child there, if that is what you want to do. I'm sure many people do exactly that. You asked why anybody would do differently and we have explained our own reasons, but there is nothing that says those reasons have to be yours. At this point, you can say to yourself, "Oh, I see why they are doing that, but my child would be heartbroken if it didn't work out. We better not take that risk." Or you can say, "Oh THAT is why they are applying to the dream colleges just in case it works out. Those reasons don't apply to us, so we won't be doing that." Or if you are too uncomfortable about giving out your financial information, then you can find a college that doesnt'require everyone to fill out a FAFSA form and not ask for any financial aid or scholarships. It isn't like you HAVE to agree with us. I happen to know from other threads that lots of people don't. : )

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You asked why anybody would do differently and we have explained our own reasons, but there is nothing that says those reasons have to be yours. At this point, you can say to yourself, "Oh, I see why they are doing that, but my child would be heartbroken if it didn't work out. We better not take that risk." Or you can say, "Oh THAT is why they are applying to the dream colleges just in case it works out. Those reasons don't apply to us, so we won't be doing that." Or if you are too uncomfortable about giving out your financial information, then you can find a college that doesnt'require everyone to fill out a FAFSA form and not ask for any financial aid or scholarships. It isn't like you HAVE to agree with us. I happen to know from other threads that lots of people don't. : )

 

:iagree: So far, for my older two, private colleges worked out to be less expensive than our state schools. PA state schools are a bit more expensive than those of other states and my older two had decent stats to get merit aid (+ we qualified for some need based aid, but that can change as the economy changes).

 

I thought youngest was going to have to go to a state school due to not having higher stats. I ran Net Price Calculators and I'm not so sure now. Time will tell.

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ETA - You know, nobody MAKES you pay for any particular sort of education. If you think that your local state school will provide your child with a fine education, then by all means, forget about applying to dream schools and just apply there. We are all trying to explain why we are willing to let our children try applying for a few expensive schools that offer good aid and then waiting to see what happens. We fill out the FAFSA and the CSS profile forms because that is how colleges take the aid they have available and divy it up between the students. The best (or most desirable) students get the merit aid and the poorest students get the need-based aid. It isn't a great system, but I can't think how else they would do it? This business of colleges having a certain amount to give (or loan) each year and trying to figure out which students to give how much is part of what makes this different than buying a car. Nobody is making you participate. You are welcome to take the amount you have saved, find a college that costs that much, and send your child there, if that is what you want to do. I'm sure many people do exactly that. You asked why anybody would do differently and we have explained our own reasons, but there is nothing that says those reasons have to be yours. At this point, you can say to yourself, "Oh, I see why they are doing that, but my child would be heartbroken if it didn't work out. We better not take that risk." Or you can say, "Oh THAT is why they are applying to the dream colleges just in case it works out. Those reasons don't apply to us, so we won't be doing that." Or if you are too uncomfortable about giving out your financial information, then you can find a college that doesnt'require everyone to fill out a FAFSA form and not ask for any financial aid or scholarships. It isn't like you HAVE to agree with us. I happen to know from other threads that lots of people don't. : )

 

 

Nan, thank you so much for saying this!

 

So often in articles on attending college, we see the advice that students can save money by attending community college and then living at home to attend a regional university. What these writers fail to take into account is that many of us do not have a quality community college nearby or that the regional uni has a limited number of degree offerings. This is in part why there are so many colleges: different types, different missions. Even state funding varies so while some kids can get a good education at a minimal cost in their state, other students are paying twice or three times the price for in-state tuition where they live. There is no one size fits all answer here--financially as well as within the fit of the college.

 

My son approached the college application process looking for a school with a specific major or faculty with certain areas of expertise. He has known what he has wanted to do since 10th or 11th grade. Sure, his goals have been refined in college--that's one reason he is attending. People with a much greater knowledge base are guiding him.

 

Why did we homeschool? For academic reasons, yes, but also to give my son the luxury of time to explore outside interests. His course of study is a blend of both.

 

Dear OP,

 

I hope that you are not dismayed by the twists and turns that your seemingly simple question has taken us. Barbara H and LoriD have provided excellent links and suggestions. What I would encourage you to do is to follow them some afternoon when you have time to read and plug in a few numbers. Also read the college acceptance thread. You'll see students considering a wide variety of colleges--some familiar, some not. The role of the college counselor was probably the most intimidating of my homeschool experience but with the help of the wonderful women on this board, we made it through.

 

Jane

 

P.S. My now college junior landed in London this morning. He has a two week spring break which he is spending with friends made last summer while attending an archaeological field school. While he left for college knowing what he wanted to do with his life, it is wonderful to see how he has blossomed at a school that truly is a good fit for his interests and personality.

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ETA - You know, nobody MAKES you pay for any particular sort of education. If you think that your local state school will provide your child with a fine education, then by all means, forget about applying to dream schools and just apply there. We are all trying to explain why we are willing to let our children try applying for a few expensive schools that offer good aid and then waiting to see what happens. We fill out the FAFSA and the CSS profile forms because that is how colleges take the aid they have available and divy it up between the students. The best (or most desirable) students get the merit aid and the poorest students get the need-based aid. It isn't a great system, but I can't think how else they would do it? This business of colleges having a certain amount to give (or loan) each year and trying to figure out which students to give how much is part of what makes this different than buying a car. Nobody is making you participate. You are welcome to take the amount you have saved, find a college that costs that much, and send your child there, if that is what you want to do. I'm sure many people do exactly that. You asked why anybody would do differently and we have explained our own reasons, but there is nothing that says those reasons have to be yours. At this point, you can say to yourself, "Oh, I see why they are doing that, but my child would be heartbroken if it didn't work out. We better not take that risk." Or you can say, "Oh THAT is why they are applying to the dream colleges just in case it works out. Those reasons don't apply to us, so we won't be doing that." Or if you are too uncomfortable about giving out your financial information, then you can find a college that doesnt'require everyone to fill out a FAFSA form and not ask for any financial aid or scholarships. It isn't like you HAVE to agree with us. I happen to know from other threads that lots of people don't. : )

 

Nan, I feel like you're irritated with me. I recognize that I have no experience with college expenses yet. I'm trying to formulate a plan. I do want to know how others do it and why they do what they do. I'm not criticizing anyone's choices. One sad fact about paying for college is that IRL, people hardly ever talk about this and it's generally seen as rude to ask. Even if people are willing to answer, they usually keep the response rather general, because it again is seen as rude to talk dollars. Even on-line, this is pretty typical. I thought I was asking polite questions from BTDT people, but now I think I'm still stepping in it.

 

I suppose I should not have piggy-backed onto the OP's post. I thought it made sense in light of some of the responses and the title of the thread, but maybe it was offensively hijacking. If it was, I'm sorry.

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Nan, I feel like you're irritated with me. I recognize that I have no experience with college expenses yet. I'm trying to formulate a plan. I do want to know how others do it and why they do what they do. I'm not criticizing anyone's choices. One sad fact about paying for college is that IRL, people hardly ever talk about this and it's generally seen as rude to ask. Even if people are willing to answer, they usually keep the response rather general, because it again is seen as rude to talk dollars. Even on-line, this is pretty typical. I thought I was asking polite questions from BTDT people, but now I think I'm still stepping in it.

 

I suppose I should not have piggy-backed onto the OP's post. I thought it made sense in light of some of the responses and the title of the thread, but maybe it was offensively hijacking. If it was, I'm sorry.

*Gingerly*

Your tone in previous posts did not suggest what you wrote above. Perhaps this is the problem of the Internet. Over coffee, I would not feel (and over tea with Nan, she would not feel) that you were negatively disposed to our decision making.

 

Nan is rarely irritated though. She is trying to be helpful. She always is.

 

Best regards,

Jane

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Nan, I feel like you're irritated with me. I recognize that I have no experience with college expenses yet. I'm trying to formulate a plan. I do want to know how others do it and why they do what they do. I'm not criticizing anyone's choices. One sad fact about paying for college is that IRL, people hardly ever talk about this and it's generally seen as rude to ask. Even if people are willing to answer, they usually keep the response rather general, because it again is seen as rude to talk dollars. Even on-line, this is pretty typical. I thought I was asking polite questions from BTDT people, but now I think I'm still stepping in it.

 

I suppose I should not have piggy-backed onto the OP's post. I thought it made sense in light of some of the responses and the title of the thread, but maybe it was offensively hijacking. If it was, I'm sorry.

 

 

Jane is right. Tone of voice doesn't get conveyed very well over the internet. It would be better over tea (tea for me, anyway, perhaps you would prefer coffee?). I'm not irritated. I just didn't get the tone right in the last bit. I was rather worried about that when I wrote it, which is why I put in the smile at the end. I think part of the problem is that a number of different issues were mushed together in your strand of this thread. (I miss hybrid mode.)

 

One part was your wanting to know other people's reasons for applying to dream colleges despite the risk that their children will be heartbroken when it doesn't work out. Answer - To try to minimize the heartbreak, most people warn their children beforehand that in order to go, TWO things have to happen: being accepted AND getting enough aid. The heartbreak over not being accepted is just as great as that of not getting enough aid. Most people do their research and then apply to more than one college to maximize their chances. They consider the risk worth it. You have until May to tell a college whether you are going or whether you are not. By then, except in a few unusual circumstances, you have heard from all colleges and the financial aid information has arrived. You don't commit and pay your deposit at one particular college until you know how much you are going to have to pay for the first year and you can take a good guess at the rest of the years. Some people don't even visit colleges until they find out whether the student has been accepted.

 

Another was your wanting to know why people would apply to an expensive college. That answer varies by person - program, location, good professors, ease of getting required classes, etc.

 

Another was your wanting to know how people can stand to apply to colleges when they don't know beforehand what exactly the college will cost. The answer to this is probably a combination of an inability to think of a better system and wanting to go to college enough to jump through the hoops even if you hate them. If you look at this from the college's point of view it might help. (I have this much money to divy up amongst this many students. How do I do this fairly? How much do I have to charge this year to make ends meet? How do I attract the best students? How do I attract ones who can pay enough money to keep me solvent? How many do I have to accept this year in order to fill yea many seats if a certain unknown percentage is going to turn me down and go elsewhere? Etc.) My husband says that it might be easier to understand if you think of college as an airline trying to fill seats rather than as a car dealership trying to sell cars.

 

And another was your wanting to know why YOU should do all of the above (as opposed to why WE did it). That was the part I was trying to address in that last bit, even though this question wasn't part of your original question (as far as I remembered it, anyway - maybe I was wrong?). It seemed like you thought we were saying that YOU had to do it our way, or were trying to persuade you to do something. I was trying to tell you that that wasn't my intention and that of course you didn't, that LOTS of people on the homeschooling board felt the same way as you. You weren't hearing from them in your section of the thread because the question you initially asked wasn't addressed to people who are paying their way through an inexpensive local state college with no loans. I obviously didn't get the tone right, though. Some of us are frustrated because that option won't work for our particular student and some of that frustration may come across in some of the posts. In my case, I'm not the greatest writer in the world and I was posting in a hurry. I'm sorry.

 

Nan

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Nan, I feel like you're irritated with me. I recognize that I have no experience with college expenses yet. I'm trying to formulate a plan. I do want to know how others do it and why they do what they do. I'm not criticizing anyone's choices. One sad fact about paying for college is that IRL, people hardly ever talk about this and it's generally seen as rude to ask. Even if people are willing to answer, they usually keep the response rather general, because it again is seen as rude to talk dollars. Even on-line, this is pretty typical. I thought I was asking polite questions from BTDT people, but now I think I'm still stepping in it.

 

I suppose I should not have piggy-backed onto the OP's post. I thought it made sense in light of some of the responses and the title of the thread, but maybe it was offensively hijacking. If it was, I'm sorry.

 

Maybe she felt prickled by your quill...

 

Totally joking...couldn't resist...please forgive me!

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Jane is right. Tone of voice doesn't get conveyed very well over the internet. It would be better over tea (tea for me, anyway, perhaps you would prefer coffee?). I'm not irritated. I just didn't get the tone right in the last bit. I was rather worried about that when I wrote it, which is why I put in the smile at the end. I think part of the problem is that a number of different issues were mushed together in your strand of this thread. (I miss hybrid mode.)

 

One part was your wanting to know other people's reasons for applying to dream colleges despite the risk that their children will be heartbroken when it doesn't work out. Answer - To try to minimize the heartbreak, most people warn their children beforehand that in order to go, TWO things have to happen: being accepted AND getting enough aid. The heartbreak over not being accepted is just as great as that of not getting enough aid. Most people do their research and then apply to more than one college to maximize their chances. They consider the risk worth it. You have until May to tell a college whether you are going or whether you are not. By then, except in a few unusual circumstances, you have heard from all colleges and the financial aid information has arrived. You don't commit and pay your deposit at one particular college until you know how much you are going to have to pay for the first year and you can take a good guess at the rest of the years. Some people don't even visit colleges until they find out whether the student has been accepted.

 

Another was your wanting to know why people would apply to an expensive college. That answer varies by person - program, location, good professors, ease of getting required classes, etc.

 

Another was your wanting to know how people can stand to apply to colleges when they don't know beforehand what exactly the college will cost. The answer to this is probably a combination of an inability to think of a better system and wanting to go to college enough to jump through the hoops even if you hate them. If you look at this from the college's point of view it might help. (I have this much money to divy up amongst this many students. How do I do this fairly? How much do I have to charge this year to make ends meet? How do I attract the best students? How do I attract ones who can pay enough money to keep me solvent? How many do I have to accept this year in order to fill yea many seats if a certain unknown percentage is going to turn me down and go elsewhere? Etc.) My husband says that it might be easier to understand if you think of college as an airline trying to fill seats rather than as a car dealership trying to sell cars.

 

And another was your wanting to know why YOU should do all of the above (as opposed to why WE did it). That was the part I was trying to address in that last bit, even though this question wasn't part of your original question (as far as I remembered it, anyway - maybe I was wrong?). It seemed like you thought we were saying that YOU had to do it our way, or were trying to persuade you to do something. I was trying to tell you that that wasn't my intention and that of course you didn't, that LOTS of people on the homeschooling board felt the same way as you. You weren't hearing from them in your section of the thread because the question you initially asked wasn't addressed to people who are paying their way through an inexpensive local state college with no loans. I obviously didn't get the tone right, though. Some of us are frustrated because that option won't work for our particular student and some of that frustration may come across in some of the posts. In my case, I'm not the greatest writer in the world and I was posting in a hurry. I'm sorry.

 

Nan

 

Well, I fumbled this whole post from the outset. it should have been its own thread to begin with; then perhaps I could have focused my thoughts better. This was the line, from Jane, that first made me want to respond:

 

There are so many myths concerning financial aid. One thing that I hear people say is that they don't bother with the FAFSA because their kid won't qualify for anything.

 

Not filling out the FAFSA in the first place is one possibility I have been considering. Then, Margaret in CO response about how her family's assets inhibited need-based aid spurred me into posting.

 

It should have been, from the outset, a separate post that started something like this:

"I'm considering avoiding the FAFSA altogether. Is this insane? Idiotic? Something that no one in their right mind ever does?"

 

I may start a thread like that if I get around to it.

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"I'm considering avoiding the FAFSA altogether. Is this insane? Idiotic? Something that no one in their right mind ever does?"

 

My short and sweet answer:

 

If 1) you can afford all of the colleges your kid is applying to, and 2) your child is not applying or expecting any merit aid, then I would not fill out the FAFSA.

 

But I would not limit my kid to only colleges that we could "afford" because at some colleges there is an abundance of merit and need-based aid available.

 

Not filling out the FAFSA may close doors.

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Well, I fumbled this whole post from the outset. it should have been its own thread to begin with; then perhaps I could have focused my thoughts better. This was the line, from Jane, that first made me want to respond:

 

 

 

Not filling out the FAFSA in the first place is one possibility I have been considering. Then, Margaret in CO response about how her family's assets inhibited need-based aid spurred me into posting.

 

It should have been, from the outset, a separate post that started something like this:

"I'm considering avoiding the FAFSA altogether. Is this insane? Idiotic? Something that no one in their right mind ever does?"

 

I may start a thread like that if I get around to it.

 

 

Forum structure does NOT match the way we think. I often post that something worries me and then meander around in the thread until I finally am able to articulate exactly what my problem is. Then I repost, now that I have a question to ask, and get ideas and solutions. Getting to the point where I can write the question is seldom a short process when it is something I don't have a lot of experience with. LOL ask Lisa (swimmermom) and Jane and Gwen and Kathy. And Corraleno. They are the ones who most often read my mishmash and somehow jump to what I am really asking, even when I have haven't figured it out myself. And I pull threads sideways all the time, too. How ARE you supposed to know that your original post in a thread is going to turn into a long branch? Over tea or coffee, this process goes more smoothly. I am deeply grateful to this forum, but to get the particular bit of information you need sometimes takes a series of questions/threads. Don't let it worry you. Just your new question. People do it all the time, sometimes with a s/o prefix, sometimes not. A few years ago, when I was trying to figure out how realistic it was to hope to receive a full ride merit scholarships, I posted a whole bunch of questions, some of them right in a row, trying to figure it out. Some of them even contained polls.

 

: )

Nan

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