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Planning for College

September 26, 2016

Summer has come to a close, and with the kids back in school, many parents of high-school-aged children are starting to think about college planning. For kids, they are focused on finding a college that fits their needs and personality. As parents, you are not only thinking about how to help your child find the right college, but also how to pay for it all.

As you help your high schooler plan for college, here are three takeaways from college consultants that you should consider.

1. “The only families who should pay full price for college are the ones who choose to do so.”

This is a favorite quote of ours from Jay Murray, founder of Solutions for Tuition, and it’s eye-opening one for many families who think they are in too high of a tax bracket to qualify for financial aid. There are ways to reduce the price of college even for wealthy families.

In many cases, students don’t realize how many scholarships are available to them. To see a full list of options, have your child type “scholarship” into the search bar of the website for every college to which they apply. Merit aid does require a separate application, but it can definitely be worth the work. Private schools often have more money to spend, so they typically award more money to those who seek it out.

For parents who are business owners, there are some interesting strategies available to help you reduce the cost of college. There are also special financing options available for IB/AP students, students of divorced parents, and athletes.

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 want to help pay for their grandchildren’s education, but the majority of parents do not want to ask them.

2. Rankings are not everything.

Of course, rankings have a place in any decision; however, there are many other factors to consider when deciding on a short list of colleges.

Look for schools with passionate educators who encourage hands-on learning, rather than lecture-only approaches. 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 the global economy.

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 may need the extra nudge.

There are many fantastic schools out there, so take the time to explore some that lie outside of the U.S. News & World Report’s Top 25.

3. Studies have shown gap years are often a good idea for students.

Gap years are growing in popularity in the US, but it is still not as widespread as we see in Europe. When you consider how students who take gap years compare with those who do not, you may start to question why.

Compared with students who go directly to college, students who take a gap year are:

  • More engaged in their school,
  • More focused in their majors,
  • More likely to finish in four years,
  • And, more clear on their career ambitions.

There are a lot of benefits to a gap year, but only if your child is doing something productive. Sitting around the house will not impress colleges, so be sure your student has a meaningful plan in place.

There are many programs available for gap years – and they do not all cost an arm and a leg. Depending on which program your kids gets involved with, their costs could range from $0 to $75,000, so be sure to define your budget early on.

With so many moving pieces in the college application process, it can feel overwhelming – for parents and students – but with the right partners and planning, the process can move smoothly. If you’re interested in learning about financial planning, feel free to reach out to us. We would be happy to help.

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