‘Tis the season for college list development with my juniors! Though some prefer to start this process earlier, I find that students are really ready to focus on their college preferences in a more mature way at this point. Often junior year classes become more interesting and students begin to actually engage with the material, sometimes honing in on potential college majors or at least identifying their preferred learning styles. Junior year also means SAT and ACT testing. Though some wonderful colleges don’t require these tests for admission, the majority still do, so official scores are a crucial part of making a well-rounded college list.
But those aren’t the only reasons I prefer starting with students junior year.
On the financial front, families with be applying for financial aid using the income information from the year that just ended (mid-junior year). This “prior-prior” year means families can actually get a fairly accurate picture of what to expect in financial aid (and sometimes scholarships as well), which can further help with developing an appropriate college list.
So if you are the parent of a junior, here are a few very important homework assignments to tackle in the coming months:
- Calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This will generate the annual expected cost for your child’s college education. It is a more generic formula that centers on income information and maps the best to colleges which only require the FAFSA application for financial aid consideration.
- Complete a Net Price Calculator for your child’s top college(s). If your child has already identified a top college (or two, or three), you can get an even more accurate sense of what you’d be expected to pay at that specific institution. This calculator can be found on each college’s financial aid website. These questions tend to be much more detailed and nosy for a few reasons. First, this calculator will factor in your child’s likelihood of receiving scholarships from that specific college (if offered). And secondly, many of the colleges that do the very best job with financial aid do so because they have gigantic endowments, so they are truly able to support students with demonstrated financial need. Since they are giving away their own institutional funds, they want the most accurate information possible and will dive deep to capture a family’s true financial situation.
- Have “the talk” with your child. I’m referring to the paying for college talk, of course. Be sure your family talks openly and honestly about the expectations of paying for college. Will your student be expected to take out loans? Or get a summer job? Do you have an absolute maximum budget for college? How do you plan to use your existing college savings, if you have one, especially if you have multiple children?
Many families assume they won’t qualify for aid, and therefore don’t follow through on completing these important tasks. Or they don’t establish guidelines with their child on the front end, leading to some intense arguments about paying for college once admission decisions come back in the spring. So start planning now!
For more information:
Guide to financial aid, including income brackets, college types, and rough “cut-offs” for aid