Big Tips from Big Schools: Advice from Financial Aid Pros at Top Colleges

Finance
Posted By Abby Perkins on May 26, 2015 at 1:40 pm
Big Tips from Big Schools: Advice from Financial Aid Pros at Top Colleges

Navigating the financial aid process can be tough for both students and parents, especially if you’ve never done it before. There are federal student aid forms to fill out, scholarships and grants to apply for, and loans to consider – and that’s after you decide on a school that’s financially viable for your family.

The good news? There are a lot of resources out there to help you with financial aid, whether you’re just getting started or you’re knee-deep in the application process. And some of the best resources are financial aid counselors, scholarship coordinators and other higher educational professionals who have experience in college finance.

Below, we’ve put together a list of must-read tips for students and parents from financial aid pros at top schools across the nation. Check them out (you can click on the images to read more), and then make an appointment with the financial aid counselor at your high school or college to see what your next steps should be:
[one_third extra=”” anim=”bounceInRight”]rick-shipman[/one_third]
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[one_third extra=”” anim=”bounceInRight”]melissa-kunes[/one_third]
[one_third extra=”” anim=”bounceInRight”]michael-gutter[/one_third]
[one_third extra=”” anim=”bounceInRight”]delisa-falks[/one_third]
[one_third extra=”” anim=”bounceInRight”]chuck-knepfle[/one_third]
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[modal_box id=”knepfle” title=”Chuck Knepfle, Director of Financial Aid, Clemson University” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? Think about paying for college tuition as a three-part combination. First, decide what you can afford in a lump sum payment when the bill is due – typically, about a week before classes start. Then, figure out what you can afford as a monthly payment, and sign up for the school’s payment plan for that amount. Lastly, borrow the rest in federal student loans, which will typically have the lowest interest rates and best repayment terms. For example, if the bill for the semester is $5,000 and you can afford a $2,000 lump sum payment and $200 a month for five months, that leaves you only having to borrow $3,000 instead of the entire amount.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? While most students cannot earn enough in high school to save meaningfully for college, a student can still play a significant role in funding their education. First – get a job on campus immediately. Studies show that students who work 10-12 hours a week actually make better grades than those who do not. Second, limit non-mandatory expenses by choosing the least expensive residency hall, buying used or leasing text books, and keeping extraneous spending on coffee, pizza, and entertainment to a minimum.

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[modal_box id=”miller” title=”Mike Miller, Acting Associate Dean for Enrollment Serviced, U.C. Santa Barbara” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? When planning for 2016-2017 college expenses, parents should take a hard look at which higher education institutions will meet their needs (academically, socially, financially, etc.), and they should be realistic about what they can afford. With just one year to go until they send their child off to college, it is important to do extensive research to determine what the process is at each institution. If they offer grants and scholarships, it is important to know how and when to apply. In my opinion, far too many parents only focus on how they are going to pay for year one. That process alone can be so daunting, they forget to plan for years two, three, and four. Sitting down with financial aid professionals is important, but before doing so, parents should come up with a detailed list of questions and concerns. With the cost of higher education on the rise, this is one of the biggest decisions a family will make, so taking your time to do the research is vital. What parents don’t know can cost them thousands, so knowing the process is extremely important.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? I love to encourage students to work. Some disagree with me on this, but I think students who work 10-15 hours a week in addition to going to college full-time have an advantage over their peers who choose not to work. Not only is the money nice to help pay for some of their expenses, but in my experience, working students tend to be better organized and in many cases do better academically. There is a fine line, and I don’t want students working too much, but it really helps them appreciate their time on campus, because they are contributing something rather than just having their parents shoulder the burden.

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[modal_box id=”armstrong” title=”Beth Armstrong, Director of University Scholarships and Financial Aid, Virginia Tech” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? If parents are planning on relying on federal and state aid to assist with the cost of education, they need to research federal aid programs and programs offered in their state. Too often, I speak to families who overestimated their eligibility for federal grants and were surprised when they did not get any type of “free” money (i.e., grants). Additionally, there are limits on the federal student loan amounts that students may borrow each year they attend school; many parents are also surprised by this information. Further, I would encourage families to fill out the FAFSA as the student head into their senior year to see how the process works. Most financial aid offices will speak to you about what you would potentially qualify for in terms of federal and state aid. I think going through that process better prepares you for understanding how much you money you will need to pay for school. Also, I would encourage parents to research current tuition rates and payment plans offered by the colleges that their child is interested in attending. Some colleges allow families to split the cost of tuition into multiple payments over the course of the year.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? Students need to apply for scholarships early, and they need to ensure that they apply for scholarships at all institutions in which they are interested in applying. Colleges’ scholarship processes are not the same, and many have scholarship deadlines in November, December, and January for the following academic year. If the student waits to apply for scholarships until after they are admitted to an institution, it could be too late to apply for scholarships.

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[modal_box id=”shipman” title=”Rick Shipman, Director of Financial Aid, Michigan State University” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? The one thing parents can do today to best situation themselves to pay next year’s tuition bills is organize their finances. They should minimize their out of pocket expenses for things like credit card and loan payments and maximize their access to cash, even if it’s in the form of federal parent loans. Being able to pay as much as possible using savings first, current income second and borrowing third is the best plan for something as expensive as college.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? Students need first to understand what college costs, and then how much of that cost their parents are prepared to pay. Regardless of the answers to those questions, students can then start the investigation for resources to cover their part of the college bills.

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[modal_box id=”gutter” title=”Michael Gutter, PhD, Associate Professor and Interim Program Leader, Family Financial Management” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? Start giving kids regular and real financial responsibility. It can be a shock for students their first year in college when they have to start managing their own money. Start making them accountable while they are still supported.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? Have an honest conversation about why they are going to college and what they want to achieve with their degree. Understand that college is a path to a career, and that they should have a practical career goal in sight.

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[modal_box id=”rabil” title=”Alison Rabil, Assistant Vice Provost and Director of Financial Aid, Duke University” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? The best thing parents can do is pay off any credit card debt they have in order to free up as much of their monthly income as possible. Car loans would be next, home would be next. Pay off, pay off, pay off, so that what you earn is more available for college expenses.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? My advice for student is to save what you earn. If you can save enough to pay for books, incidental expenses and travel to and from college, that is a large additional expense your parents don’t have to cover. Learn about the loan terms, and use loans to your advantage. Don’t be scared of them – all loans are not bad. Federal loans can help you get what you need to go to college. Be smart about which loans you take. Check out the rates on Stafford loans, ask your college if they have Perkins loans, and stay away from private loans.

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[modal_box id=”mcanuff” title=”Courtney McAnuff, Vice President for Enrollment, Rutgers University” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? Get a realistic estimate of what different schools cost and what you can afford. Most schools have calculators on their websites where you can get a rough estimate of what tuition and fees will cost and how much financial aid will offset that cost.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? Talk to your children about the importance of completing 30 credit hours every semester so that they graduate on time. The average cost to attend an extra year of college is about $60,000. That includes not only the cost of school, but also lost wages that could have been a starting salary at a job.

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[modal_box id=”kunes” title=”Melissa Kunes, Senior Director, Office of Student Aid, Penn State University” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? Parents and students need to have an open conversation about their college expectations. We encourage students to apply to the colleges in which they are interested; however, the final decision needs to be made as a family, after factoring the components of academic, social and financial fit of the family and the institution. As a part of this decision, families need to complete the 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Student (available in January 2016) and submit it to each school to which they have applied. This will provide families with financial aid resources from each school that can help them make a decision. If families do not have a pre-determined plan on how to pay for college, now is the time to start researching payment options, including what they are able and willing to borrow to assist in financing college costs. Families can start comparing institutional costs by accessing the College Board’s planning tools at BigFuture.CollegeBoard.org. This information will help families start formulating a plan as to how they can work together to fund their student’s college education.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? Be a part of the family plan and conversation on their college choice, and engage in the research of college choice and pricing. Be willing to work a part -time job to save for items such as books and incidental costs.

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[modal_box id=”falks” title=”Delisa Falks, Executive Director, Scholarships and Financial Aid, Texas A&M” text=”

  1. What do you think is the most impactful thing parents can do today to prepare for college tuition next year? With limited time to prepare for college tuition for next year, I would suggest parents prepare a budget to determine what they will be able to contribute on a semester or monthly basis to assist their student with educational expenses. In addition, I believe parents should think about needs versus wants for the family. If you have a student entering college, put off large purchases to assist with paying tuition at the beginning of the semester. The two highest college costs a family will encounter are tuition and fees and room and board – do your research so you will know what these costs are for the institution of choice. This will help you plan for the following year.
  2. What is one piece of advice you would give students about the role they can play in helping to fund their education? Students should play an active role to assist in funding their educational expenses. Students should also look at needs versus wants, thinking about modest living and budgeting in college. Look for work opportunities on campus, which can help them earn money for their college education, as well as provide practical job experience and assist them with time management. Preparation and planning are key for both parents and students. Students should apply for any and all scholarships. Watch for deadlines, as many will occur during their senior year of high school (most prior to December 1). Apply for financial assistance and seek information on eligibility for programs through the Financial Aid Office. Apply early for financial aid. If a student has to borrow through a student loan program to assist with college expenses, they should only borrow what they need to keep their loan borrowing to a minimum and avoid high monthly payments and longer repayment time frames once they completed their degree.

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A special thank you to our expert contributors:

  • Rick Shipman, Director of Financial Aid, Michigan State University
  • Courtney McAnuff, Vice President for Enrollment, Rutgers University
  • Melissa Kunes, Senior Director, Office of Financial Aid, Penn State University
  • Michael Gutter, PhD, Associate Professor & Interim Program Leader, Family Financial Management, University of Florida
  • Delisa Falks, Executive Director of Scholarships & Financial Aid, Texas A&M University
  • Chuck Knepfle, Director of Financial Aid, Clemson University
  • Alison Rabil, Assistant Vice Provost, Director of Financial Aid, Duke University
  • Beth Armstrong, Director of University Scholarships and Financial Aid, Virginia Tech
  • Mike Miller, Acting Associate Dean for Enrollment Services, U.C. Santa Barbara

Abby Perkins
Email | Twitter | LinkedIn Abby Perkins attended Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.A. and Honors in English and wrote for The Davidsonian newspaper. Abby's work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance and Entrepreneur. As Managing Editor, Abby is a regular contributor to the GoodCall newsroom, covering education and financial aid.

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