Would you walk into a car showroom and pay full sticker price for a new car? Of course not.
Yet thousands of American families pay the full cost of college tuition every year. If the University of Massachusetts says its yearly tuition and costs run $32,442 for out-of-state students and Yale costs $49,800 for tuition and fees, then that’s what students pay, right? Of course not. Here are some ways to find aid for college and bring home a big-ticket degree at a bargain-basement price:
Meet with a college funding advisor as early as you can. Also called college financial consultants, these professionals are not to be confused with general financial consultants or investment advisors. They look at all your family’s financial assets, debts and income and recommend strategies to get the most aid for college. To find one of these pros, search for “College Funding Consulting” or “College Financial Consulting” in your area.Be warned, some of these consultants make shady recommendations about how to qualify for more funding. Example: You can hide family assets by putting them in a relative’s accounts. So before you set up a meeting, describe your overall situation over the phone and see what kind of information you get.
Meet with one of these professionals as early as you can. If you are going to set up a trust to pay for college, shuttle funds into the IRA of a parent who is about to retire, or engage in other sophisticated maneuvers, you need to start as early as possible.
Fill out a FAFSA worksheet. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) isn’t exactly what it sounds like. Even though you need one to qualify for a PELL Grant or other government programs, it has become a standard form that colleges require from scholarship applicants.
Lots of families are terrified of the FAFSA because it requires them to submit personal financial information to the government. But fear not. You can download and print out a FAFSA worksheet, fill it out in complete privacy – and never show it to anybody. Worksheets let you discover speed bumps before you submit your application online.
Warning: When you search for “FAFSA” online, you’ll find ads for for-profit companies that will submit your FAFSA for a fee. Don’t use them. You can fill out the form for free at the parent FAFSA site.
Use guerrilla tactics to trim college costs. “Five Ways to Cut the Cost of College,” a post I wrote for this blog, spells them out. You can start college at a community college and then transfer to a state school. You can attend a three-year college and trim 25 percent of your costs. You can take college courses for credit at StraighterLine and complete your freshman year of college for $999 (in full disclosure, I work for Straighterline, but really, it’s a great deal).
So why would you ever pay full sticker for your college education? There are so many ways to get the aid for college you need.