Columnist Steve Rosen recently wrote a column for those of us with rising high school seniors in our households. His advice is spot-on — as usual — so, I am providing you with the complete text for your college files!
Tough financial love for high school seniors
BYLINE: By Steve Rosen
It feels like someone kicked you in the stomach. Your pulse is racing. You’re not sleeping well, and you have that blank, empty feeling — the kind you get when you’re really down and have no answers.
Many parents preparing to send children off to college in the next year or two are feeling like that.
Punished by the staggering declines in the stock market this past year, many families have lost big chunks of money that was stockpiled from years of scrimping and saving to pay for college. And it doesn’t look like the market’s going to get much better this year.
On the financial aid front, loans are available, but reports indicate money could be scarce by spring. As for scholarship and grant money, availability varies from school to school. You may get money, it just might not be what you were hoping for.
Given this financial storm, it’s a safe bet that many parents are downsizing their children’s college plans. Students who were planning on attending private schools are now looking at state schools; students who were going away to state schools are now looking at nearby universities; and students who had their heart set on four-year schools are now applying to two-year community colleges.
What can you do if you’re afraid you’ll not have enough money to cover college costs that are on the horizon?
There are numerous cost-effective strategies parents can try to stretch their education dollars. Some require hard work. Some are no brainers, such as submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at www.fafsa.ed.gov. FAFSA is the gateway to federal, state aid and aid from the college itself.
Among the suggestions:
• Keep the end game in mind. Help your high school senior see past the glossy college marketing brochures and put her disappointment about changed plans into perspective, said Barbara Cooke, a counselor at Metropolitan Community Colleges-Maple Woods in Kansas City, Mo. “Is the goal going to college,” she said, “or is it to graduate from college with the education, work experience and people skills needed to get on with a happy, productive adult life?”
Considering there are scores of top-flight colleges and universities to choose from, where your child ends up should not be a life or death choice, added Mark Kantrowitz, who runs Finaid.org, a financial aid Web site.
“While you may have set your heart on school X, school Y can probably give you just as good an education,” he said.
• Two to make four. Community colleges are a strong, and reasonably priced option for students, especially those who are unsure about a major or not really emotionally ready for the pleasure and pains of dorm life and large classes. Average annual tuition and fees at public community colleges runs about $2,361 versus $6,185 at four-year public colleges, according to 2008 data from the American Association of Community Colleges.
In addition, students can knock out credits by taking a class or two over the summer before heading to State U. Check on enrollment dates and have all the paperwork done to enroll early. “If you wait until the semester is over to enroll at a community college for summer, the classes you want may be full,” Cooke said.
But don’t sign up for community college classes haphazardly — make sure the credit hours can transfer to the four-year school.
• Test out. If your high school senior (or junior) is taking advanced placement courses but is on the fence about taking the final exams this spring, keep in mind that high test scores equal college credits. And college credits earned in high school should reduce the amount of your total college costs.
• Ignore the conventional wisdom. “As far as students who want to go to private school, I tell them, don’t worry,” said Stephen Heiner, founder of Get Smart Prep, a Kansas City-area test preparation company. “There has always been more money available at private schools, and again, because the prevailing wisdom is often wrong, there are legions of people who now aren’t going to apply because they don’t think they can afford it.”
That could open the door for more scholarship and aid money for those who do apply.
• Tough financial love. Finally, try this hedge against dwindling college funds — require your children to help pay the tab, said Susan Beacham, who runs Money Savvy Generation, a Chicago-area developer of children’s financial education products.
“Get them used to the idea that they need to contribute, that Mom and Dad will not be delivering a four-year private education on a silver platter,” said Beacham.
That may mean a job, a couple years at a community college before transferring to a bigger school, and maybe a student loan. Some students I know have done just that — and it was not the end of the world. Far from it.