Whether it is the parking lot after a PTA meeting or in the stands watching your kids’ basketball game, parents are sharing lots of misinformation about college admissions and especially about financial aid.
Some of the most frequently discussed financial aid myths include:
• “We’re only looking at state schools, because I’m sure we won’t receive any aid.” Don’t underestimate your potential for receiving money; many families are very surprised to find out that they are eligible for aid. Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for need-based grants, it is still worthwhile to complete the forms, see what happens and in the meantime, focus your search on merit-based aid.
• “I’ve been regularly putting money aside for my child to go to college and now I find out that I’m penalized for thinking ahead and saving. That doesn’t seem fair.” The truth is your “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) does not go up or down dramatically if you have saved a lot or very little.
The federal method (FAFSA) and most institutional methods assume some level of saving by including a portion of assets in the calculation. It is important to note that equity in your home and retirement savings are NOT included in the FAFSA calculation. This myth evolved because saving money for a child’s college education in their name, in a custodial account, does have a negative impact on aid eligibility. However, putting money in a 529 college savings plan has little impact since it is counted as a parent asset rather than a student asset.
• “Private colleges are too expensive and only rich kids go to the fancy private schools.” Actually, the more expensive a school is, the easier it is to qualify for financial aid. According to College Board, the average published tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year institutions was $8,893 in 2013-14 compared to $30,094 for private four-year colleges.
These numbers do not include charges for room and board, which generally run around $10,000 per year. Keep in mind that these are the “sticker prices” and not everyone pays the full price. This is particularly relevant at private schools.
• “I graduated from college in four years; everyone did back then, so my child will too.” We can hope that our children will graduate in four years, but national statistics are not encouraging. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only about one in five public college students graduates in four years. The numbers are better at private schools, but still just a disappointing 50 percent four-year graduation rate nationally.
Next week: More financial aid myths.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.