(BPT) - The last year of high school is a whirl of activity, and it's no different when it comes to the final leg of college selection. Once the acceptance notifications arrive, it will soon be time to sit down with a different stack of mail: financial aid letters.
As you undoubtedly know, the cost of college is no small investment. In the 2017-18 academic year, the average tuition and fees for four-year public colleges is $25,620, while for private colleges, the costs are $33,520, and public two-year colleges cost $3,570, according to the College Board.
At the same time, the College Board reports that more than 70 percent of students receive grants to help pay for college. Hopefully, those financial letters contain some good news.
For most families, analyzing the letters is a process of uncovering the college that can offer the best education at the best value for your student. One way to get there is to parse the details of the letter itself so you understand the net cost of your student's education. Still, it's critical to look at other factors and opportunities around higher education costs. Taking a deeper look at these can help you and your student reach the best possible decision.
Deciphering free aid vs. other options: Take a close look at each line in the aid column. Key words, such as scholarships, grants and fellowships, signal no-strings money for school. Work-study and student loan packages are options that will need students to find a job or pay the money back.
Cost-of-living expenses: Think about those extra costs that come up over the weeks and months of any college year, such as meals, phone, transportation and laundry. Don't forget entertainment. After all, they're not going to spend all their time studying in their dorm room. Does the campus and community offer plenty of low-cost and no-cost attractions and entertainment so they can have fun with their friends without breaking the bank?
Local economy: One thing worth considering is the local economy of the first-choice school, especially if your student may want to pick up a part-time job along the way. Even better, look for local employers that are compatible with your child's career goals. An entry-level job at one of these workplaces can help make ends meet, while making your student more marketable when it's time to graduate.
Student achievement: Do a little digging on the success rate for students and graduates, so you have an idea on whether the school has a high job placement rate after graduation. Know the school's graduation rate, along with the average first-year salary for graduates.
Ongoing costs: The financial aid letter describes the student's first year. As much as you can, do some forecasting for the next three to four years. It's especially important to understand whether awards are renewable, or if they're available only to first-year students.
Negotiation: If the college isn't coming through with enough aid to make college affordable for your student and family, don't give up. You might be able to negotiate more aid. Submit a letter and ask for a follow-up appointment. Be specific about what you are requesting, and be sure to explain if you have specific circumstances such as medical costs or a job loss that may have affected your ability to meet the expected family contribution.
If you find the amount of financial aid provided isn't enough (including the amount offered in federal loans), families may want to research and explore private student loans as an option to cover the additional expenses. Look for competitive interest rates and flexible repayment options that match your budget. College Ave Student Loans also offers a calculator that showcases how much families can save with various loan options at www.collegeavestudentloans.com.