It’s almost Thanksgiving, and at least one well-intentioned family member will invariably ask your high school senior, „Where are you going to college next year?“ (In fact, you might want to warn your high schooler in advance.)
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The College Board published the 2021-2022 average sticker price for tuition and fees for the following types of colleges and universities for full-time undergraduate students: $10,740 for a public four-year in-state university, $27,560 for a public four-year out-of-state university, $3,800 for a public two-year college and $38,070 for a private nonprofit four-year college or university.
You might feel proud that you’ve wrapped up all your child’s college visits, but you may have forgotten to ask a few valuable money questions during your rounds. If you did, ask your child to shoot their admission counselors an email — after seconds of pumpkin pie, that is.
Question 1: „What is my price — not the sticker price?“
Nobody pays the full college sticker price. Most colleges and universities offer merit aid and other types of financial aid to students. Merit aid is based on students‘ grades, talents or other factors (not athletics). Private colleges in particular usually offer a lot of merit aid to students.
When you visit colleges, make sure you get an appointment with an admission counselor so he or she can walk you through how much it’ll actually cost your student.
If you’re getting an evasive answer, such as „Your child might get these scholarships,“ or „We don’t know yet what the scholarships will look like,“ demand an answer. The admission office generally knows what your child will receive in merit aid (maybe not to the dollar, particularly if you have a young student).
Note: All colleges have a net price calculator on their websites, but it usually includes very general amounts. The net price calculator usually just offers a quick financial aid snapshot.
Question 2: „What scholarships can my child apply for?“
Colleges and universities may offer scholarships that your child must apply and interview for, so ask about them. It’s often a little murky what the process might look like to get certain scholarships. Use college visits to get clear on what your child will have to do to qualify. Some require essays and letters of recommendation, and some require another campus visit for an interview or an interview with an alumnus in your area, etc. Some colleges offer selective full-tuition or half-tuition scholarships if your child makes the extra effort to complete them.
Question 3: „Can I get work-study even if my child doesn’t qualify for it?“
If your child doesn’t qualify, rigid rules stand in the way of getting a job on campus, right? You must file the FAFSA in order to find out whether your child can get a job on campus. However, some schools will add work-study onto your child’s financial aid award even if you „make too much“ for your child to initially qualify for work-study.
Just remember that work-study money usually goes to your child directly in the form of a paycheck, which means that he or she will have to earn it.
Question 4: „How does the monthly payment plan work?“
You should ask that question at every college. Most colleges and universities offer a monthly payment plan, which means that you can pay for college over a period of time, such as nine or 10 months out of the year. Ask how many months you can make payments — every college has a different policy.
A monthly payment plan can help you break college costs into bite-sized chunks so you can more easily manage them. If college costs $30,000, you might be able to break it into $3,000 bits instead of paying the full amount as soon as you get the bill. It can make the whole process of paying for college much easier to swallow.
Question 5: „How many students graduate in four years?“
Really hammer this question hard. If it typically takes students five years to graduate, this means you could pay tuition, room, board and fees for an extra year. You want to know the exact plan to get your child in and out of college in four years — or two, if your child will head to a community college. If you can’t get your child out in four years (or less!) you might want to encourage your child to attend a different college — one that can demonstrate exactly how it will happen. Obviously, a lot is up to your child — he or she has to pass the classes and do the work in order to graduate on time. However, many students take five years to get into specific classes or fulfill the necessary requirements at large state schools.
Question 6: „Can I negotiate my financial aid award?“
Some schools refuse to negotiate, while others are open to it. Take a look at other financial aid awards from other schools and show them to your child’s top choice institution. Most of the time, they’ll send your student a new financial aid award to try to counter what your child has received from other schools. They want your child to attend their college — find out how much they’re willing to stick their neck out. They might only add $2,000 to the financial aid award, but multiplied over four years, that’s $8,000. That’s worth the phone call to ask for more money!
Question 7: „Will you explain the financial aid award in detail after we receive it?“
Always ask admission counselors to go over your financial aid award over the phone in detail. Unfortunately, there is no „standard“ financial aid award. If your child applies to 10 different colleges, you’re stuck with 10 different aid awards, all structured differently.
For example, some colleges put the work-study award in the main section of the financial aid award. While it makes it look like your child may be getting more from that institution, it’s actually misleading because your child has to earn that money.
Question 8: „What is the typical tuition increase?“
You can depend on college tuition increases almost as much as you can depend on the sun to rise and set each day. Colleges never tell you how much tuition will increase over the next year — or the next, or the next. You should ask how much tuition will go up so you can make plans to accommodate that increase into your budget.
Remember that scholarships almost never rise to accommodate tuition increases, so ask about that as well.
Ask These Valuable Questions
Skip scrolling Google Finance or learning how to buy stocks to try to ratchet up your portfolio before your child goes to school. Ask these questions first. If you’re not asking them, you could leave money on the table, which can negatively affect both you and your student’s money.