Get to Know Me Monday #3 - College Planning
Today I’m discussing planning for college. There is so much to cover in this topic, I could write a book. As a CPA and CFP, I’ve advised clients from how to start saving for college to how to pay for college when the time comes. As a parent of two college graduates, I’ve also experienced first-hand the college process, from savings, applying for colleges, applying for scholarships, completing the FAFSA, paying for college and everything in between. I really enjoy collaborating with parents and students on the college process. This blog is going to highlight a few important topics. I’d be happy to consult with you for your specific needs and concerns.
Selecting a College
Why is this a financial planning issue? Choosing the right college is a major financial consideration. It’s not just the tuition price but making sure the college is the right fit. If a student ends up changing colleges, it often ends up costing more as it may take longer to finish. Credits may not transfer or count towards their major and can add another year or two of tuition expenses.
Sometimes students have specific colleges already in mind they want to attend. Sometimes the student really is open to any opportunity. If you know what area you want to major in, that helps to narrow the list of schools. Is there a certain geographic area you want to attend - close to home, or further away, or open to any where in the United States or world?
I really like the Fiske Guide to Colleges book to help narrow down the field. It not only provides some candid insights to the colleges, but it also includes
- a self-quiz to help you understand what you are really looking for in a college
- Lists of strong programs and popular majors at each college
- "Overlap" listings to help you expand your options
- Indexes that break down schools by state, price, and average debt
- Exclusive academic, social, and quality-of-life ratings
- All the basics, including financial aid stats, SAT/ACT scores, and acceptance rates
Applying to College
- When looking at a college, don’t let the sticker price prevent you from applying to the college. Many private or out-of-state schools will offer great financial aid or scholarship packages to make the out-of-pocket costs comparable (and sometimes less) than an in-state public university.
- Be sure to look for the application deadlines and try to submit before that date. Start the application well in advance of the due date to check to see what items are required. It can take a while to contact references and receive their letters. You need to allow your references time to write the letter, and follow-up if it is not received.
- Draft a resume or list of all the activities you have been involved in. Draft a personal statement about what led you to want to focus on a specific major, your unique experiences, or qualities, which may not be represented on the application. Let them know who you really are, apart from the data that is outlined in the application. Provide examples of leadership or an experience that will show the school you are a good fit for their university. Some applications may require an essay from a specific prompt but having this personal statement will give you items to draw from when writing your response.
- The references and personal statement will also be useful when applying for scholarships, so keep those on hand.
- Apply to several colleges. Apply to your “dream” school, one or two “safety schools” (colleges that you are certain to be accepted and are affordable) and to one or two “reach” schools (low acceptance rates). You don’t want to limit your options.
Visit the college, maybe more than once. Fortunately, many colleges offer virtual tours and have quite a bit of information on their websites. If you have the opportunity to visit prior to applying, that can be helpful in narrowing down the list of colleges you want to apply to. If it is not possible to visit prior to applying, then an admitted student visit can be very informative. Often at those visits, you can meet with the specific department that you want to major in, get answers to specific questions, and possibly meet with someone in the financial aid office. Sometimes that walk on campus (even a second or third visit) can solidify if this is the place for you to succeed.
Next week, I’ll be talking about paying for college. Remember, you don’t need to accept your college offer until you receive the financial aid award, and a plan is in place for how to pay for college for all four years. As always, if you have a topic you’d like me to address, please send me your suggestions.