Divorce, College and The Brilliant Child.
It happened yet again, last night.
Great parents, a brilliant child (no joke), a pending divorce and they wanted to find merit aid for college because likely neither parent will qualify for need based aid and they certainly will not qualify for financial aid if both parents should need to provide their financial information. There are younger kids still at home and the parents cannot afford to eat up what is potentially their respective retirement accounts on the childrens’ college educations’.
So, they ask me for help and guidance. Unfortunately, it is the same story. Every single time.
If your child wants to attend a certain upper level college because they have worked so hard and the child “deserves” to go there, you will likely not get merit aid. Schools, especially those in the Ivy League and upper tier will give need based aid only to those families that can prove through their financial aid applications that the need exists. However, every child applying to these level schools is brilliant. These colleges do not typically award merit aid because the schools don’t have to. Everybody wants to go there!
Now, what if the child is the typical, average, wonderful student? The schools that this child is applying to MAY award merit aid. But will your child receive those coveted scholarship dollars? Your child should typically be in the upper 20-25% of applicants to receive merit scholarships. Of course there are other opportunities to receive merit scholarships. Maybe your child is a prima ballerina, the start football quarterback, the lead french horn player or maybe your child is applying to a school in a region that wants to attract more students from your area.
I say time and time again, if you want to save money on the cost of college, or if you need to save money on the cost of college, please plan ahead. Doing your homework in advance is so important! Do not wait for your child to create a college list (either with or without the help of an advisor) with no regard to finances.
Here are steps that all parents should take to contain the cost of college, and some more specific steps if you are separated or divorced.
Consider college honors programs. These programs typically offer not only generous merit aid packages but also may offer priority registration for classes, priority housing, special classes and programs and increased networking opportunities with the faculty and community at large.
Consider in state universities. These schools typically provide the same majors as a private college at a much more attractive price.
Consider talking with your child about financial costs for college. It’s important for the child to gain an understanding of what is financially feasible for the parents. They should not expect to attend a $75,000 per year university unless the parents say that it is an option to do so.
Determine potential net price costs of various colleges prior to committing to apply. This will take into account both your personal finances as well as your child’s academic accomplishments.
Consider combined degree programs. If graduate school is in your child’s future, consider combined degree programs such as a BS/MBA program that takes 5 years to complete instead of 6 years.
Consider College Level and AP Classes in high school. This may save time (and money) in college.
Consider speaking with a College/Career advisor. This can help students with undecided majors find a path and help determine a major. This will reduce the desire for the child to jump from major to major and shorten what potentially could be a 6 year degree into four years.
With a separation or divorce, it is also important to plan strategically by 11th grade. Does the college require one parent or both parents financial information? Does it make sense for the child to reside with one parent or the other?
File the financial aid forms completely and accurately for separation or divorce. Other additional steps can be taken with the various colleges to also help with potentially reducing costs.
Always fill out merit scholarship forms. Lastly, even if you feel that you will not qualify for need based aid, many of the schools will award merit scholarships only to those who submit financial aid forms. Remember to always fill it out!
The key is to find a college that is a good fit academically, socially and financially speaking for your child. We certainly all want what is best for our children both now and for their future. But, in a world where life happens, whether it be divorce, job loss or something else, it is imperative to work to minimize the cost of college and potential student loan debt for both ourselves and for our children’s futures.