A step-by-step guide to paying for college for students and their families.
Paying for college is a major financial milestone, much like buying a home or saving for retirement. But unlike real estate or retirement, the paying for college process can often be opaque, confusing, and different for every family. Conflicting information is widespread, and parents and students can get overwhelmed trying to make sense of it all.
Don’t worry! It’s going to get better. Here at Edmit, we’re working to take the mystery out of paying for college, and have put together a checklist for students and their families to prepare for this all-important financial goal. Read on, then get personalized recommendations for your most affordable colleges with our college comparison tool.
Paying for College Checklist: If You or Your Children Aren’t Yet in High School...
College is a few years away, so let’s use that time to your advantage! If you or your children are in middle school or junior high school, here are a few ways to start thinking about paying for college.
- Take stock of your finances. What are we working with (e.g., savings accounts, 529 plans, etc.)?
- When you’ve tallied up what you’ve currently saved, then consider the range of colleges you may be able to afford.
- Based an initial research, estimate how much you’re likely to need to pay for college.
- Working off your current finances and your college cost projections, make a savings plan that will put you on track to meet your future needs. (Edmit’s savings and planning tool can help with this, and we also offer hourly advising to develop and refine your paying for college plans.)
- Start saving (or continue to save), and monitor your savings accounts regularly to ensure you’re staying on pace with your savings goals.
Paying for College Checklist: If You or Your Children are High School Freshmen or Sophomores…
If you or your children are underclassmen in high school, start building the foundation of your college savings plan. Specifically:
- Review the status of your savings plans (e.g., 529 plans, savings accounts, help from grandparents, etc.) and how your financial profile will impact your eligibility for financial aid.
- Revise your savings plans, if needed: Do you need to save more to stay on track?
- Revisit your college options and affordability benchmarks. Based on your current finances, what will your expected family contribution be, and which colleges can you afford?
- Speak with an Edmit advisor or financial aid counselor to start strategizing how to optimize your financial aid opportunities.
- Use credit score calculators to see which financing possibilities will be available to you.
Paying for College Checklist: If You or Your Children are High School Juniors…
OK, upperclassmen and parents—college financing prep is getting serious! If you’re a junior or the parent of a junior in high school, here’s how to tackle college financing this year.
- Get an updated Edstimate™ to see which colleges and universities will be affordable for your family. Pay special attention to the financial aid and scholarships you’re likely to receive.
- Compare your affordable colleges, looking specifically at potential net price and value (e.g., return on investment).
- Get personal recommendations for colleges that are likely to be affordable for you. (There may be several affordable colleges out there that hadn’t been on your radar!)
- Start building a balanced list of colleges to apply to, including three tiers of schools: safety colleges, good fit colleges, and reach colleges.
- Review your current finances and updated college attendance cost projections, and make adjustments as needed to your savings goals.
Paying for College Checklist: If You or Your Children are High School Seniors…
For seniors in high school and their parents, getting into college is top of mind. Here’s how to make the most of this all-important year.
During the Fall Semester Senior Year:
- Make another comparison of the colleges you’re planning to apply to, studying the most current net price and value (e.g. return on investment). If you’re swamped, Edmit can help you identify your best fit colleges!
- Get updated personal recommendations for colleges that are particularly affordable, based on your academic profile, demographics, and finances. (Remember: There are thousands of colleges out there. There’s a good chance there’s a “new-to-you school” that’s a great fit, academically, culturally, and financially!)
- Make your final list of the colleges you’ll be applying to, including safety schools, good fit schools, and stretch schools.
- Turn in your college applications, the FAFSA, and CSS/PROFILE by their respective deadlines.
- Complete and submit scholarship applications.
During the Spring Semester Senior Year (After You’ve Been Accepted to College):
- Interpret, compare, and evaluate your financial aid packages, taking all four years into consideration. Which college will be the most affordable for you? Which college will give you the best return on investment? (Edmit’s financial aid letter comparison tool can help demystify all the paperwork.)
- Based on your initial review, determine which colleges are your top choices.
- To reduce your costs even further, follow up with your top-choice colleges and request more financial aid.
Paying for College Checklist: If You or Your Children are in College…
Congrats! You’ve picked your college and officially enrolled. Here’s how to ensure all your financial preparation and planning will continue to work for you.
- Shift your financial planning from saving to paying: Determine how you will pay your tuition bill each term. Book an Edmit consultation to discuss any continuing questions you may have about financing or the paying for college process.
- Use a student loan calculator to evaluate your student loan options and choose the best deal for your goals and career plans.
- Once you’re enrolled, stay on top of your finances: Make sure you’re sticking to your budget and prepared for the coming years (and any potential increased costs of attendance).
- Stay in touch with your financial aid office to anticipate and prepare for any future tuition or cost of attendance changes (including any potentially necessary financial aid appeals).
- Unhappy with your college choice? Don’t panic! You may be able to get more financial aid and scholarships by transferring to a different college. Based on your current academic transcripts and finances, the Edmit team can work with you to determine which colleges would be most advantageous for you as a transfer student.
As with any major investment and life goal, preparation is key to making a wise financial decision. Thanks to your ongoing research and diligence, you’ll be informed, organized, and in good shape to pay for college with a sound financial plan.