A recent College Board study found that the average overall cost to attend an in-state public college for the 2012-2013 academic year rose 3.8 percent to a record $22,261, according to a report by CNN. The news network also notes that Sandy Baum, an economist and lead author of the report, predicts tuition will continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation, which rose 2 percent over the last 12 months.
Sure, you can open a high-interest CD or a 529 savings plan to save for your child’s college education. But how else can you ensure you’re financially prepared? Jon W. Tarrant, Certified Educational Planner, and one of CollegeStats’ 17 College Financial Aid Experts Worth Knowing About, offered some tips:
Save in Your Own Name
Tarrant tells us that parents should first make sure they’re saving for their son or daughter’s education in their own name, rather than the child’s. “The reason for this,” he says, “is that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) weighs children’s assets at a much higher rate in its formula for student aid.”
Even if you don’t plan on using loans to cover your child’s education, you’ll still probably want to complete a FASFA; Tarrant points out that colleges use it to determine grant packages as well.
Tackle That Big Project by Junior Year
Do you have money for a major home improvement project sitting in a savings account? If so, you may want to tackle the project before your child’s junior year of high school. Tarrant notes that this is when a parent’s financial picture is taken for the FASFA.“It would be better to use that money before the picture is taken,” says Tarrant. “If you know you’re going to fix the roof or remodel the kitchen, it might be better to do so beforehand.”
Don’t Let Sticker Shock Narrow Your Options
Tarrant says it’s a mistake to only apply to schools with lower tuition. “If the family is needy, as FASFA calls it, or the student is an incredibly good student, they may end up paying less at the pricier school than they might at the state school.” Because of this, Tarrant says that the most needy students should cast the widest net when applying, so they can get a clear picture of their options. Some of the highest-priced colleges are capable of offering the most favorable aid packages.
Encourage Your Child to Get Good Grades
Tarrant notes that your financial situation isn’t the only thing a school will take into consideration when putting together an aid package – your child’s previous academic performance will come into play as well. “If the student is extraordinarily good, there are some colleges at the top end that will give an aid package that includes no loans (i.e., only grants) for the neediest student,” he says. “That’s an incredible boon.”
Get Help From an Expert
It can be tricky figuring out the funding options offered at each college your child is applying to, so Tarrant recommends working with an independent educational consultant. What qualifications should you look for? “A good independent counselor is working for the benefit of the student, and the student only,” Tarrant says. “They’re taking no fee from the college, only from the family that hires them, and they’re not selling anything.”
How are you preparing to pay for your child’s college education? Have you ever worked with an independent educational consultant?