Which major investment do you think individuals do not get pre-qualified, pre-approved for?
$400K Mortgage? $35K Car Loan? $250K College Education?
The correct answer is “college”! But why?
Since the notion of going to college was invented, students and parents have been taught to search, visit, make their selection on what I call the “hope and dream” mindset. Students and parents are told, everyone can go to college? You can go anywhere you want. Unfortunately for many that are not realistic?
Higher education today costs between $120K to $250K for a four-year public or private education. Although most never pay that much, it is still a very expensive consumer purchase. Higher education is the only industry where the average consumer does not fully understand their buying and spending needs and capabilities up front.
Although the “hope and dream” mindset is not wrong, today it is important to be financially prepared as it is academically and personally before going about one’s search. We search for large consumer purchases like buying a home, looking for a car and even remolding a kitchen, by first getting pre-qualified and pre-approved!
Getting pre-qualified, pre-approved should focus on two important areas, the readiness of a student to attend college (written about in a separate piece, Am I ready and what path to follow) and by knowing one’s buying needs and capability. Both are critical to the college planning experience.
When Should I Get Pre-Approved
As early as the freshman year of high school, parents of students considering college should learn their spending and buying capabilities. Understanding what constitutes college costs, how financial aid is determined, and what a family will be expected to pay, all need to be in the forefront of college planning. A student and family should analyze their financial profile and build a list that includes the quest for the “best school for my child”, but is based on reality. Looking for schools and ignoring the ability to pay results in April tears, co-signing private loans and excessive debt.
College costs vary between institutions, public and private, in-state or out-of-state and typically increase on an annual basis. Colleges and universities offer tuition assistance in the form of scholarships and need-based financial aid to those who qualify. Understanding the range of awards based on student high school resume and institution admission criteria need to considered with size, majors and extra-curricular when building a list of college options.
What Does Pre-Approval Look Like?
Digging into the process of determining what one can/could afford requires a few calculations. Number one; Expected Family Contribution, commonly known as the EFC. This mystical number that stimulates a love-hate relationship is used by everyone who awards need-based money. The Feds, state Board of Higher Education, colleges, universities and many who award private philanthropic scholarships. The EFC is derived from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA!! It analyzes an individual family’s income, assets, and household size to determine what that specific family can be expected to contribute towards their student’s educational cost. The difference between a college’s cost and student/family’s EFC is what is known as “need”.
This example looks at two colleges, different costs with the same EFC and demonstrates what the unmet need will be prior to seeking out and applying for financial aid.
Hold on. I can’t pay the “EFC”, never mind the balance! Understood, but for the purposes of getting pre-approved, you should have a benchmark, a line in the sand. Using one’s EFC, a fixed number, a student/family can examine what an initial need will be school by school.
Now with this new powerful information, it’s time to go shopping. Time to explore colleges and build a list of college options built based on a student’s high school resume, the classics (size, location, majors) and new information, need.
Knowing one’s financial need (and EFC) earlier shifts the college search from a “hope and dream mindset” to “I know” what is needed to make the match. A search should identify a wide range of options. A search for colleges should also look for institutions that award aggressively and those who don’t.
Today, the college planning experience needs to be different. It must be realistic, based on examining a students’ readiness to go and a families ability to pay. College plans focused on these two areas create options for students after high school, those that are academically and personally challenging and affordable. Students need to be coached and motivated to excel to reach their aspirations and goals, understand the value of being their own authentic self as they begin to consider their educational – career path after high school. Add in the “money talk” and now students and families can create a college -career plan that is realistic and one that will position a young adult for financial and individuals success.
In the end, it all its all about establishing a college- career plan that is designed and focused on the individual student and family. Is it easy, no. Is it doable, 100%!!