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Archive for Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Busting financial barriers to college

February 24, 2009

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Debunking myths and misconceptions about college financial aid gives families the up-to-date tools and the right ammunition to be the best financial advocates for their children. Here are five myths about college financial aid:

Myth No. 1: “College isn’t really an option for our family. It just costs too much.”

Reality: Sure, college is expensive. While we seem to hear more about the private four-year institutions that can top $50,000, only 9 percent of all students attend colleges with tuition and fees over $33,000, according to the College Board. Public four-year tuition is up 6.4 percent from last year to $6,585, but that is still quite a bargain. And while there has recently been some debate over the actual increased earning potential provided by a college education, there is little doubt that students who identify career options early on and perform well academically earn higher salaries.

Myth No. 2: “Our family income is too high to qualify for any assistance.”

Reality: One thing is for sure: Unless you complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov)), you won’t find out. There is no income cut-off to qualify. A number of factors are considered, such as the number of college-age children, income, home mortgage costs and children’s assets. Aid is frequently awarded to families that were certain their incomes would disqualify them. Never assume you won’t qualify.

Myth No. 3: “Private colleges are out of reach financially.”

Reality: This is a common misperception, but you may be pleasantly surprised to find that private colleges will often award money just based on the merits of the application without the need to complete any financial aid forms. Because private colleges cost more, it’s also easier to demonstrate financial need.

Myth No. 4: “Since we own our own home, we won’t receive any assistance.”

Reality: Home equity is not considered an asset under the federal guidelines (FAFSA).

If you’re considering a private school, the CSS/Financial Aid Profile (www.collegeboard.com) does consider home equity.

Myth No. 5: “Colleges will tell you everything you need to know about financial aid.”

Reality: Kal Chany, author of the Princeton Review’s “Paying for College Without Going Broke,” makes a great analogy: “That’s like saying the IRS is the best place to go for advice on tax savings!” Remember, the financial aid officer is trying to get you to come to the institution by offering you as little as possible. He works for the college, not for you. Parents and students need to do their homework.

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