Navigating Your College Search

September 28, 2021 By Rick Gibson, CFP®, Senior Financial Planner
Woman holding head. West Financial Services

Kids are expensive. At least, that’s what I hear. I don’t have any children, nor am I planning on having any in the near future. But in the financial planning world, kids are a big part of the discussion from when they are born until the time comes to plan for possibly inheriting parents’ assets. Somewhere in between, planning for college becomes a focus of the discussion.

Recently, West Financial Services hosted a webinar, Navigating Your College Search, with guest speaker Cozy Wittman. We thought we would follow up on the event with some key takeaways from Cozy’s presentation.

COVID-19 has made it hard to get a sense of the college experience for new and prospective students. To this day there are still schools that are not holding on campus tours, electing to go the virtual route. There are pros and cons to this method, but at least it avoids the possibility of anyone becoming sick or spreading infection. Don’t expect virtual tours to go away permanently, as they have provided an easy and effective way for people to tour campuses from their living rooms. With that being said, if your student’s prospective school is offering in person tours, and you choose to take advantage of this experience, remember to be safe and stay vigilant while touring.

Another consideration when selecting a college is affordability. We recommend that clients file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, regardless of their income or assets. The FAFSA is the only way to be eligible for grants and aid at all income levels. FAFSA information also determines eligibility for federal student loans (both subsidized and unsubsidized) by calculating your expected family contribution (EFC). There are two different types of student aid, merit based and need based. Need based aid is awarded based on the EFC (expected family contribution) that is determined by the FAFSA form. Merit based aid is awarded based on some type of skillset, such as academic or athletic. So, even if a student does not receive assistance based on their financial circumstances, they always have the hope of receiving merit based aid. Note that some schools only offer needs-based aid (notably Ivy League schools), while others have more robust merit-based grants. Regardless of the type of aid, the earlier you file for scholarships, grants or FAFSA, the better your chances of receiving aid.

Campus tours? Student loans? Merit based aid? On the surface, all of these things put together can seem daunting. And at the end of the day, navigating your college search can be a confusing and at times overwhelming process. But, try to remember that even in these uncertain times this is still quite the milestone. For some, it may provide a sense of great pride and accomplishment that you were able to raise a college bound student. For others, it may represent freedom, and finally being able to reclaim a bedroom for your budding scrapbooking hobby.

Regardless, if you have questions, or just want to vent about high tuition costs, give us a call. We are always here to help. In addition, we are happy to facilitate an introduction to Cozy Wittman, who can help you schedule a one on one consultation.

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