Paying for College takes lots of research – how does the school handle financial aid? Are there scholarships available for your major? Can you qualify for tax breaks? When should you use 529 funds?

Unfortunately, while your student is researching admissions requirements, you’ll need to be researching the financial aspects of the schools on your student’s list.

Do they meet 100% of demonstrated need? If so, do the packages offered by the school include loans?

What financial aid applications do they require? FAFSA, CSS Profile? Their own financial aid application?

Do they offer merit aid and, if so, does your student need to complete an additional application for the merit scholarships?

Are any financial awards renewable and what are the requirements?

We’re just getting into college application season.  As your students fine-tune their essays while staying on top of their current classes, extra-curriculars, admission interviews, college visits and possibly even working an outside job, you get to research the financial aspect of the upcoming college education.

Create a Calendar

Just like the students create a calendar for themselves to stay on top of all the various deadlines associated with college application season, I recommend that you create a calendar for the financial aspect of the season.  You’ll want to include the financial aid deadline for each school – and noting each school’s FAFSA code and CSS Profile code will come in handy later.  If any schools have their own financial aid form (like Princeton) you want to note the deadline and how to access the form.  You frequently cannot access the form until your student has submitted their application so your calendar should have a reminder to seek out the form after the application is submitted.

Research Institutional Scholarships

Many schools offer their own scholarships.  Some are need based and some are merit based.  Some are competitive and some are automatic.  You’ll want to search each school’s website to see if any available scholarships might apply to your student and note the requirements.  Be sure that the application deadline is on your calendar and be sure that ample time is on your student’s calendar if an essay is required.

Create a Plan

You don’t have admissions decisions and you don’t have any financial aid packages yet.  But, you can determine what resources you have available now – before the emotional part sets in.  Having an idea of what your resources are and what you would need to make a particular school work can help emotional moments that come when a student gets an offer of admission but the financial aid package is lacking.  If the family knows ahead of time based on actual numbers what they can afford, it won’t seem arbitrary if parents have to say that they simply can’t afford it.