I didn't worry about college financial aid when I was in high school but quickly found out that even though all my older siblings, and even my mother, got full financial aid packages, I did not qualify. Because our family size went down as kids grew up and my parents income increased, I had to work my way through college and take out loans.
Fast forward twenty-something years and I have a family of four that easily qualifies as middle class. As my kids approach the college years, I was convinced that college financial aid was something my family will not qualify for. Fortunately, this may not be true.
If you have used college financial aid calculators to determine your college costs and needs, and felt discouraged, don't stop looking just yet for college financial aid. You should know that even the affluent can receive financial aid. Believe it or not, "a 55-year-old parent with $100,000 in a 529 account would receive only $2,244 less in financial aid" than a parent with $46,000, according to CityTownInfo.com.
Mark Montgomery of GreatCollegeAdvice.com told WalletPop in an e-mail exchange that when it comes to college financial aid, "the secret is in matching the student to the right college. The colleges -- especially expensive private colleges -- will heavily discount tuition for students they really want."
Montgomery's most important tip for college financial aid as a college finance expert is his "TOP 25%" Strategy." In this strategy he advises students to apply to colleges where they will be in the top 25% of applicants because "most colleges shower their best financial aid packages on those students in the top 25% of their incoming class." For example, "if XYZ College reports a middle 50% ACT range of 22 to 26, this means 25% of students scored lower than 22, and another 25% scored 27 or higher. An applicant to XYZ College with an ACT of 29 has a much better chance of receiving a solid financial aid package than the applicant with a 22."
Juli Asti of Astifinancial.com, who advises families on on college financial aid and paying for college, advises them to always "apply for aid even if they think they can't get it. Just try. Prior to their child attending college, (students) can try to shuffle assets into tax deferred accounts, pay down debt or begin buying things for college (computer, etc.) to spend down some reserves. If they have even more time, they can try to fund a Roth for their child (with their child's PT income earnings) and use that for college (they need 5+ years to do that effectively)."
From what these and other financial advisers who specialize in funding college and securing financial aid say about college financial aid, it might be a good idea to get your own financial consultant or college entry coach to help you navigate this serious financial issue.
In addition to college financial aid, students should look into merit based scholarships. The eLearners.com scholarship search tool will help students find extra money for college. Complete College Planning Solutions also offers a free comprehensive scholarship search engine at www.CompleteCollegePlanningSolutions.com.
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