Most families take a completely "backwards" approach when searching for money for college. Normally, the process goes something like this...
In the child's sophomore or junior year of high school, they start picking schools they may be interested in going to, and ones they believe they can get into based on their grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities, etc.
Many students pick a grouping of "safety" schools, which they know they can get into, "middle of the range" schools, which they have a good shot at getting into, and "reach" schools, which they would love to attend, but have a slim chance of getting into.
The next step in the process is that the student starts checking the schools’ websites for dates to visit them (usually towards the end of their sophomore year of high school or in the summer preceding their junior year). These trips to visit can be weekend trips that include one or more of the schools the student is interested in applying to.
This is how most students and families get a "feel" for each college campus and determine if they would feel comfortable being a student there.
In case you haven't noticed...
All Of This Traveling From Campus To Campus Costs You A Lot Of Time And Money.
If you want to make these visits more cost effective, be in control of the college selection process and get the maximum amount of financial aid from each school, then you need to do some homework before you visit.
Here is what most parents and students don't understand...
Your Child Will Probably Be Accepted To Approximately 70% Of The Schools They Apply To! (Unless, of course, your child is a borderline student, and they're applying to the Ivy League or most competitive schools).
But if your child is not applying only to reach schools or the Ivy Leagues, then they have a good shot at getting into most of the schools they're applying to!
You see, it's not like 10 or 15 years ago, when there were more students applying to college than there were available seats.
Today, most colleges are struggling to keep their doors open, and they need students (like your child) to help pay their bills.
It's the old law of supply and demand, and today, the supply of available seats at colleges and universities is greater than the demand to get into these schools.
This is great news for parents. This puts you in the driver's seat if, but only if you know how to take advantage of this trend.
You want to know the "right" way to look for colleges and universities for your child?
Instead of blindly picking schools purely based on academic or sports criteria, or because your friend or relative's son loves a particular college, you must look at one other very important criteria...
Can this school meet my family's financial need and give us more FREE money and fewer loans?
Remember, your child will get into most of the schools he/she is applying to (unless they are reaching for the Ivy's or the most competitive schools).
So the question is not, "Will my child get into this school?" Instead, the right question to ask is, “Will this school be able to give me the money I will need to send my child there for the next 4 years?”
You may have noticed, college is very expensive these days! Even a state school can cost you $20,000 or more per year when you include tuition, fees, books, room and board, living expenses, etc. A private university can easily run you $45,000-$60,000 per year and more!
And that's just one year! Remember, you have three more years to go after that. And what about if your child wants to go to graduate school?
It's definitely expensive no matter which way you slice it, but there are ways to minimize these costs...
One of the best ways to do this is by picking schools that historically have the best policies of giving financial aid.
But first, here is a brief explanation of the financial aid process...
Financial aid is awarded at each school based on a calculation of a family's “financial need.”
Financial need is calculated by subtracting the Expected Family Contribution (this is the minimum amount you will be expected to pay at ANY school) from the "Cost of Attendance", which includes tuition, fees, books, room and board, etc.
So, if a school costs $20,000 and the Federal Government calculates your family contribution to be $10,000, your "need" at that school is $10,000.
It works like this:
$20,000 (Cost of Attendance)
-$10,000 (Family Contribution)
=$10,000 (Financial Need)
Financial need determines how much financial aid your family is eligible to receive. However, just because your need is $10,000, does not mean you will be offered $10,000 at that school.
This is where picking schools that historically give the best financial aid packages come in.
You see, some schools can meet 100% of your family's financial need while others will only meet 20% or 30%.
The other thing you must know when picking schools is how much of the "need" they meet in "FREE" money, which you never have to pay back, versus how much need they meet in "self-help" money, which includes loans that you do have to pay back.
By knowing each school's ability to give financial aid in advance, you can pick schools that you have the best chance of getting money from.
This puts you, instead of the schools, in control of the process.
This type of planning should be done as soon as possible before your child's junior year of high school, so you don't end up visiting and applying to colleges you will never be able to afford.
If you're wondering how you can find out about this type of information, you can start by asking the financial aid officer at each school. Some of them will be completely honest about their ability to give money, and others will keep very silent about these numbers.
The other option is to use the services of a college-funding consultant who maintains an updated version of these statistics on a computer database.