College planning is stressful for students and parents alike. Whether it’s finding the right school or figuring out how to pay for it all, the process can seem overwhelming. We recently hosted an event featuring two expert speakers: Carolyn Francis, independent educational consultant and founder of Carolyn Francis Consulting, and Jay Murray, founder of Solutions for Tuition.
They had a great deal to say about excellent schools found outside of the often cited Top 25 as well as creative ways to pay for tuition – no matter your income level. For those starting the process, we identified three key takeaways from our recent discussion:
1) Rankings are not the be-all, end-all
Of course, rankings have a place in any decision; however, there are many other important factors to consider.
Look for schools with passionate educators and those that encourage hands-on learning, rather than lecture-only learning. In general, these two factors greatly improve a student’s educational experience.
Consider the living environment. Will your child be exposed to people with different economic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds? It’s important for students to have this experience to prepare them for an increasingly global world.
Does the college allow its students to fail? Obviously, no one wants to see their child falter; however, it’s an educational process and one that typically benefits the child in the long run.
Finally, how is the college’s career services center? Do they engage with students, or do the students need to seek them out? This is an important question, particularly if your child is not a self starter.
There are many factors to consider beyond rankings, so take the time to explore some schools that may be found outside of the U.S. News & World Report’s Top 25.
2) Studies have shown gap years are often a good idea for students
Common in European countries, gap years are growing in popularity in America, and recent statistics demonstrate students are reaping the benefits. In general, students who take a gap year are more engaged, more focused in their majors, and more likely to finish in four years than those students who go from high school directly to college.
The important thing to remember about a gap year, however, is that your student will need to do something productive. Sitting around the house is unlikely to impress colleges, and your student will have to explain why they are taking a gap year to their university. Be sure your student has a meaningful plan in place.
There are many programs available for gap years. Some universities are designing their own, but you can also research different organizations online. Depending on which program your students gets involved with, their costs could range from $0 to $75,000, so be sure to define your budget early as your student explores his or her options.
3) Think of college tuition as a sticker price on a car
Many families, particularly those who feel like they would not qualify for financial aid, see tuition cost as a fixed number, but that isn’t the case.
There are ways to reduce the price of college even for wealthy families. In many cases, students don’t realize the multitude of scholarships available. Have your child research their options by typing “scholarship” into the search bar of the website for every college to which they apply to see the full list of options. Merit aid does require a separate application, but it can definitely be worth the work.
In addition, there are special financing opportunities available for IB/AP students, students of divorced parents, and athletes. Private schools generally have more money to spend and therefore often award more money to those who seek it out. For parents who are business owners, there are also some interesting strategies available to you to reduce the cost of college.
Moreover, families with multiple generations who are able to chip in for college can find unique payment strategies. Interestingly, 2/3 of well-to-do grandparents are interested in helping to pay for their grandchildren’s college education, but the overwhelming majority of parents do not want to ask them. We recommend being willing to ask.
As Jay noted in his presentation, the only families who should pay full price for college are the ones who so choose. With college tuition prices growing each year, it’s important to keep in mind that you have options.
There are a lot of moving pieces in the college application process, but with the right partners, the experience can run much more smoothly. If you are interested in learning about financial planning or selecting the right college, feel free to reach out to us. We would be happy to put you in touch with our contacts and local experts.