Higher Learning

Perfect Practice: College Funding Strategies

It is football season here in the South. Every Friday evening, the high school football stadiums are packed with students and parents watching the games.  The players and the coaches have been on the practice fields for several hours every day, gearing up for this game. The players and plays will be analyzed for days to try and make improvements. The old adage “Practice makes perfect” is only partially true. The real truth is that only perfect practice makes perfect.

Let’s talk about college funding strategy now. I am quite confident that the average family with a high school football athlete in the house spends more time practicing for, and attending the games than they do practicing for college.

I could be wrong, and I hope that I am- but I do not believe so.

Part of the problem is that parents don’t know how to practice for the arduous task of sending your child off to the university to study for 2, 4, or more years. This may be their first rodeo in this regard, possibly the only one.

This lack of “practice” is only part of the reason the college dropout rates are as high as they are.

So how does a family do a “dry run”? There are several things you can work on in advance.

1)      Calculate your EFC

This is the amount of money your family will be expected to spend before you qualify for aid. Sound Greek? That is why it needs to be done 1 or 2 years in advance-to prepare your family’s balance sheet and income needs for the burden.

2)      Expose your child to as many career/curriculum tools as possible

All humans change their minds, but when college students change their minds on majors the result can be expensive in the short term, in the form of lost credit hours. The average student graduates in 5.4 years. Multiply the cost per year times 5.4, and I am quite confident you will not like that number. Multiply the cost pear times 4 years, and it will look much better.  Your counselor has many tools available to help your child in that regard, and there are many additional tools available to you and your family-seek them out!

3)      Go over the playbook

Begin to dialog with your children regarding college, and help set expectation s for both the children and the parents. What will you expect of them? What should they expect from you? Now is not the time to discourage them from applying from a prestigious, private university because you don’t think your family can afford it. If you have done the homework listed above in #1, it will make your work here in number 3 much easier. I talk with families all the time that are shocked to learn it is possible to attend a school with a much higher gross cost for less out of pocket than another school with a much lower sticker cost.

Perfect practice makes perfect.

The more times you have been through these items in advance, the easier your job will be and the less stress and less cost (hopefully!) to the family.


— Curt Coulombe CFP

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