Face it: You’re Richer than You Thought

By Sam Rosensohn

If you were to look at me closely you’d see sand around my collar, on my tie, and in the hair that’s left on my head.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve not wanted to face what the actual cost of college is going to be starting next fall. My healthy wallet fears anorexia.

I just learned that Babson has welcomed Zac, my sweet knucklehead of a son who never ceases to delight and puzzle me, to be one of theirs. The cost of Babson is $46,000 a year anyway.

Babson serves lobster on Wednesday nights, while fewer than two percent of the students in America attend colleges that cost over $32,000.

I told myself I’m OK with this. Babson is not his first choice, and he is my first born. We’re also waiting on the school he wants above all others, a school where he will grapple with the secrets of the universe and smash heads on the football field, and the school’s a steal – its sticker price is about $42,000.

And I force myself to remember that I’m a lucky man – I have two boys, I will pick up the tab for the rehearsal dinner, but the wedding, that’s not my ring.

Since the cost of college is on my mind, I thought it might well be on some of yours, so I figured I’d share a really fast way to start to figure things out, if you’ve yet to plough through the morass.

After going through over 30 websites that pertained to financing college, which I drew largely from the National Association for College Counseling, I got a really big surprise. The cleanest site I found was offered by Wachovia, and it can be found directly at http://www.wachovia.com/personal/page/0,,325_496_8289_8422,00.html.

I instantly liked the site because it offered five quick and good steps and I didn’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to register. I’d encourage you to take a look at the site; I only have the space to give you a taste. Like all sites, it’s but a start.

Also, nose around the National Association for College Admission Counseling’ site, at http://www.nacacnet.org/MemberPortal/; it’s a solid and honest purveyor.

Here are a few of the steps that Wachovia has mapped out for students to follow:

STEP 1: Complete the FAFSA. The road to financial aid starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA).The information you provide on this form will be used to determine how much aid—and what types of aid—you’ll be offered at each of the schools you’re considering.
Some types of financial aid—like grants and scholarships—are made available on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s important that you submit your FAFSA as early as possible after January 1. You won’t be able to receive any amount of federal aid (including loans) until your FAFSA has been processed.
You’ll need a Social Security Number, tax and income information, investment and mortgage information (if applicable). If you are claimed as a dependent for tax purposes, you will need to supply this information for your parents as well. A few quick tips: Complete your FAFSA after January 1 and no later than June 30. You will need your parents help to complete the form. Save time and complete your FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Give yourself plenty of time, it could take you five hours – I’m not exaggerating, particularly when you factory in all the information you have to round up.

STEP 2: Rewrite Your Student Aid Report (SAR). Four to six weeks after you submit your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) in the mail. This report details your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount your family will be asked to contribute toward your education.
The schools you specified on your FAFSA will also receive a copy of your SAR so that they can customize a financial aid package for you. These financial aid packages may include offers of grants, scholarships, Federal Work-Study, and, or loans.  It’s important that you review your SAR carefully to ensure that everything is correct and matches the information you provided on your FAFSA.

STEP 3: Compare Financial Aid Packages. Each of the schools you listed on your FAFSA will send you an award letter if you have been accepted to enroll. These award letters will outline the total cost of attendance at each school, your Expected Family Contribution, and a financial aid package.
Look closely at the types of financial aid you are being offered at each school. The aid package will usually contain a combination of aid that doesn’t have to be repaid (such as grants, scholarships, and work-study) and aid that must be repaid (loans).

It’s your choice whether you accept all, some, or none of the aid being offered. To accept a specific financial aid offer, complete, sign, and return the forms that come with the award letter.

Also, pay careful attention to the individual deadlines listed on each award letter. Missing a deadline can mean losing all of the aid being offered.
Quick Tips: Don’t be put off by high tuition costs, private schools sometimes offer better aid packages. Make sure you respond by the deadline listed on your award letter.
Once you look at the remaining steps, go to FinAid.org, The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid, and click on the calculator. There you will find dozens of tools for calculating college costs, loan payments, savings, and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
We finished the calculations late last night, and while things look OK for the Rosensohn household budget, Zac has been told to resume work at the River Tavern in Chester where he busses tables. He’s going to pay for some of that lobster.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com