Would you walk into a car showroom and pay full sticker price for a new car? Of course not.
Yet that’s just what thousands of American families do every year. If a university says that its yearly tuition and costs run $49,800, then that’s the price, right? Take out your checkbook.
Paying full ticket doesn’t make sense. Here are some ways to bring home a diploma at a discounted price:
Meet with a college funding advisor as early as you can. Also called college financial consultants, these professionals are different from general financial consultants or investment advisors. They look at all your family’s financial assets, debts and income and recommend strategies to get the most financial aid. To find one of these professionals, search for “College Funding Consulting” or “College Financial Consulting” in your area.
Be warned, some of these consultants can recommend dishonest ways to qualify for more funding. Example: You can hide family assets by putting them in a relative’s accounts. So before you set up a meeting, describe your overall situation over the phone and see what kind of information you get. Dishonest dealings really can come back to haunt you later on.
Meet with one of these professionals as early as you can. If you are going to shuttle funds into the IRA of a parent who is about to retire or engage in other sophisticated maneuvers, you need to complete them well ahead of time. You’re going to have to describe your finances on the FAFSA (described below), and any last-minute financial maneuvers will almost certainly come to light.
Fill out a FAFSA worksheet. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) isn’t exactly what it sounds like. Even though you need one to qualify for PELL Grants or other government programs, the FAFSA has become a standard form that colleges require from all scholarship applicants.
Lots of families are terrified of the FAFSA because it requires them to submit personal financial information to the government. But fear not. You can download and print out a FAFSA worksheet from http://www.fafsa.ed.gov, fill it out in complete privacy – and never show it to anybody. Worksheets let you discover speed bumps before you submit your application online.
Warning: When you search for “FAFSA” online, you’ll find ads for for-profit companies that will submit your FAFSA for a fee. Don’t use them. You can fill out the form for free at the FAFSA site.
Use guerrilla tactics to trim college costs. You can start college at a community college and then transfer to a state school. You can attend a three-year college and trim 25 percent of your costs. You can take college courses for credit at StraighterLine and complete your freshman year of college for $999.
So why would you ever pay full sticker for your college education? There are so many ways to get the aid for college that you need.