This time of year is very bittersweet for us as college planners. Every spring we receive distress calls from families that are heartbroken rather than excited about their child getting into a dream school.
The students have done everything they were told to do. They took all the right courses, they earned the grades, they got impressive test scores, they spent part of their summer working on college applications and writing essays, they visited colleges (but not the financial aid department), they prepared their list of six to 10 schools (including "reach" schools like Cal), and they submitted their applications well before the deadlines.
And then comes the good news: They're accepted into their dream school. But the bad news comes a week or two later when they receive their financial aid "award" — often in March, less than two months before their commitment to the school, just five months before they are to leave for college. The award consists of two loans – an unsubsidized Stafford loan (for $5,500) and a PLUS loan (for the balance).
The parents assumed their student's academic achievement would generate some grants and scholarships. They heard about the Cal Grant, the federal Pell Grant and work-study programs. They even filed their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form mid-January, well before the March 2 deadline. "So what went wrong?" they ask.
They didn't understand the process. This award is typical (and predictable) for families whose EFC's (Expected Family Contributions) are $25,000 or greater. We should never rely on a merit award from a public college. Parents need to learn their EFC before the summer going into their child's senior year, and they need to have a plan in place to pay for every college on their child's list. (Go to www.LearnYourEFC.org for an accurate EFC calculation.)
The element of planning for college funding is as important as admissions counseling and SAT preparation. Not having a plan to pay for college before applying for admission is like setting your heart on your dream home not knowing its cost until you're in escrow.
Seminars: and WEBinars. For details, visit www.GetCollegeFunding.org and register online.
Tom and Lawrene Bottorf co-founded GetCollegeFunding, and are in their 9th year of full time college planning. They find the right colleges for the right reasons, focusing on affordability. Because it is not just about getting them INTO college, but about getting them OUT!
We are in the Dana Point Harbor, on the island, between the 2 yacht clubs. For more information, e-mail: info@GetCollegeFunding.org