How to Select the Right College For Your Child, and Your Finances!

It’s an exciting time of year. Springtime is on its way, and most graduating seniors are receiving admissions letters from the schools to which they’ve applied! At this point, you have probably reviewed that list of colleges and universities where your child could be pursuing their dreams of higher education… and you are also aware that the upcoming decisions for your family are of the utmost importance!

Making the choice of where to College Selection Process is not an easy task, under the best of circumstances. This can be a weighty decision for the student, who considers such matters as academics, geographic location, future professional goals, and (of course) social situations… and it is every bit as demanding for the family, especially with the enormous effect it can have on your finances. This is one of those life situations where, working together, you and your child really need to make the right choice. There is a lot riding on this decision.

Obviously, the money factor cannot be ignored in choosing a school. The anticipated cost of attendance can move a school up (or down) your list of possible schools faster than just about any other consideration! However, “cost” can be a tricky matter, as some schools which give parents an initial tuition sticker-shock may not turn out to be overwhelmingly expensive in the long run. Remember to look beyond the dollars and cents to see what each institution is actually offering to your child… both in the way of financial aid, the actual expenses for the school, and any assistance available to your child from the school.

In order to assist you in analyzing these options, I am pleased to provide some specific points to consider as you review the college offers available to your child. As you focus in on each school, please be sure to go over the award letter information with a fine-toothed comb. Here are four specific areas to hone in on:


  1. For better or for worse, you’re probably now on a first-name basis with your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). As you are likely aware, this is the amount that the Federal Government has dictated for you to pay the school. Bear in mind that there are two sides to this figure – your side, and the schools’ side! Most people are convinced that their EFC is too high to be manageable, while most colleges (especially spendy private schools) will look at the same figure and deem it too low. This could mean that your award letters may ask for even more money than your EFC indicated! Pay very close attention to how the college has listed your EFC, and whether or not it is correct.
  2. Note that each school making an offer to your child will provide an estimate of Total Annual Expenses. These are generally quite accurate, as the school usually goes to great lengths to update these numbers annually. However, while tuition and fees are the same across the board for all students, the actual living costs can vary wildly, depending on how and where your child plans to reside during the school year! Lifestyle will be the determining factor, here. Students who plan to dine out at restaurants and live on their own (not to mention feed any shopping habits), will have considerably higher expenses than a student who choose to live and eat at home. In fact, if your child can stay at home during school, you can remove rent and food from the Total Annual Expenses. When you determine these details, calculating this figure shouldn’t be a challenge.
  3. With the EFC and TAE in mind, you now need to determine how large of a financial gap you’re facing – figure the difference between your EFC (Point #1) and the TAE (Point #2), and you will have arrived at your individualized financial need for that school. Note that this will probably be different for each institution! The school will probably have calculated the financial need amount for you, because they utilize this number to arrive at any financial aid package they will provide for your child. It’s nice to know where the school is coming from in determining their amount of assistance.
  4. While all of the above are important figures, probably the most vital information you will find in these offer letters will be the scholarships, grants and loans available to your child! These should be spelled out in the award letter from each school, and in addition to scholarships may include special loans, grant programs, or even work/study aid. Of course, some of these are “free money,” and others require repayment, so the offers are not all the same. This next bit of advice may seem like overkill, but I cannot emphasize it enough – regardless of whether or not your child has decided to attend any school, you should absolutely accept every single financial aid offer your child has received! There is a very real difference between accepting and actually committing to receive these offers, and you don’t want to block your child from the possibility of any aid available down the road.


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