5 Things You Can Do This Summer to Pay Less for College

shutterstock_99364631 (2)Want to save $10,000 or more off the price of your student’s college education, but you don’t know how? Summer is a great time to put together an action plan to pay less for college.

Below are 5 things you can do this summer to pay less for college.

Create a list of potential schools that you can afford. To pay less for college you will need to create a list of schools that are a good financial fit for you and your student. Parents should take the lead on this. Too often the college choice is made exclusively by the student. Mom and Dad can influence this decision by creating a list of potential schools that are not only a good academic fit for your student, but also a good financial fit as well.

A great place to start is the College Navigator at the National Center for Education Statistics. The College Navigator allows you to enter in various selection criteria and do a quick search of schools that meet them. The resulting list also provides links to additional information for each school.

Another great source for college data is DIY College Rankings. There you will find tools to create your own college spreadsheet and other free resources for finding and paying for college. Check out their list of 50-50 schools, schools that admit 50% or more of applicants and have 4-year graduation rates of 50% or better. You will find 15 of them in MN.

“How much you pay depends on where they stay”. That’s my mantra when I teach my college planning workshop, “Pay Less for College” at local high schools. Financial aid for college varies from school to school, family to family and even from student to student within the same family. More than any other factor, how much you pay for college depends on the school your student chooses to attend. Start your list now.

Educate yourself. I recently took a college planning class for professionals taught by Lynn O’Shaughnessy of The College Planning Solution. Lynn is arguably the best resource in the country for learning about how to pay for college. Her blog and online courses are at the top of my go-to list of favorite college planning resources. Some of her material is free. Some of it you might pay for, but when you are considering shelling out up to $100,000 or more for college, spending a few dollars to educate yourself on how to be a smart shopper of a college education is a great investment.

My eBook, Pay Less or College is another way to get sharp on college planning. In it I map out my 6-Step Action Plan to help parents of college-bound high school students develop a customized plan to increase their eligibility to receive financial aid and manage college expenses more effectively. You can download it directly from Amazon.

A third resource is the MN Office of Higher Education. Their website is loaded with information aimed specifically towards Minnesota parents and their students. They also have numerous publications you can download for free. My favorite is titled simply, “Paying for College”. This booklet is a must-read for any Minnesota parent with kids who plan to go to college.

Calculate an estimate of your Expected Family Contribution or EFC. You can do this at the College Board’s website, BigFuture. Calculating your EFC gives you an idea of what you can expect when you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form. It’s the base number from which a lot of your financial aid may be determined.

The benefit of calculating an estimate of your EFC now is that you can plug in different variables to see how they may change your EFC and make any adjustments to your how-to-pay-for-college action plan prior to submitting the real FAFSA. Wondering how much your college savings balances affect your financial aid? You can get an idea by starting here.

Be honest with your kids (and yourself) about what you can afford. Paying for a college education has never been more challenging. Whatever you paid for your entire 4-year college education probably isn’t enough to pay for even a single semester at many of the schools your kids are considering today. If you can afford it, great. But if not, you may need to have a realistic talk with them about what you can afford and what they will be expected to chip in.

In my eBook, I outline three simple questions families should discuss as they create their college plan: How much will college cost? Who’s going to pay for what? And where will the money come from?

Having that conversation now not only saves you a ton of money down the road, but it also helps avoid a lot of disappointment when your college dreams might have to be modified in order to be realized.

Take a prep course and retake the ACT or SAT exam. The last thing your student wants to do this summer is to spend it studying, but taking a prep course and retaking the ACT or SAT exam can pay huge dividends. In MN the average ACT score is about 23, one of the highest rates in the country, but if you are not satisfied with your score or you think you student can do better, it might pay to take the test again.

According to the people who administer the ACT exam, students who take the prep course score an average of 2-3 points higher on the exam. That might not sound like much, but it can be the difference between a modest merit-based financial aid award and one that is several thousand dollars per year higher.

Spend a lot of time on the websites of the schools you are considering. I love to exceed expectations so let me give you one more bonus tip. If you want to become a smarter consumer of a college education and pay less for college, get to know the websites of the colleges your student is considering. Some websites are better than others, but most will give you very detailed information on their costs, their financial aid and scholarship opportunities, and other facts you may not have considered.

For example, schools must have a Net Price Calculator on their website to help student’s families estimate what their net cost will be to attend that particular school. The most accurate calculators will take 10-15 minutes to complete and will ask for detailed information about you and your student.

If you want to know what it costs to send your student to Gustavus Adolphus College vs. Carleton College vs. University of MN, each school’s Net Price Calculator is the way to find out.

We all want the best for our kids. They have worked hard and deserve a high quality, college education. But most families have limits to what they can afford. Make the most of your education budget this summer by educating yourself and creating an action plan to pay less for college – right now.