Joy Disappears Only to Return After Admissions Meets this Mother and Daughter

By Sam Rosensohn

Financial panic started to invade. It was beginning to look like this high school senior might work at a pharmacy instead of going to college, and her mom was ready to take a carving knife to the next financial officer, who presented a new option to keep her in debt and at work for longer than she had planned.

“I don’t think we can afford it,” said this very disheartened mom, who called the other day, and asked not to be identified by name in the column.

“During the whole process I never stopped to think about anything but finding a good match for her abilities and interests. We’re talking about applying and not knowing that we couldn’t afford it.” She was kicking herself.

Every school that her daughter applied to accepted her. One school offered a $2,000 grant; another school offered a $3,000 grant, and while appreciative of the awards, college now looked to be unaffordable.

“There are all these factors that got us to senior year,” the mom said, “and then you have 120 days to pull everything together, and we did, and there we were – standing there with half the bus ticket.”

Colleges advised this mom to talk to banks, and the talks didn’t go well. “There were giant clauses about default and deferment and assignment upon death. I knew I didn’t understand the depth of those clauses and real panic was setting in. The first year we’d have to borrow $22,000 and I’m 50-something and now I’m doing the math, and I’m thinking when I’m 68-years-old, I’m in a wheelchair from all this college debt and it still isn’t paid off.”

Because her daughter ruled out community college, it really didn’t look like this young lady who scored in the 93 percentile on the verbal portion of the SAT, and nearly as well on the math, was going to go to college.

Believing in the fundamental goodness of school, I suggested that they pick the school they most wanted to attend and drive up to make their case in person.

The two of them drove up to Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Ma., to make their case. The mom had to wait a bit to get in to see the financial officer, but when she did she showed the officer a spreadsheet that provided an overview of the family’s financial status.

“I have no savings, my income is limited, and I showed her what I paid for insurance, cars, personal property tax, heat and electric. I subtracted federal tax and state tax and factored out some of the money you must spend: dental, car repairs, food, clothing, and the officer looked at the paper and I think she was kind of surprised, because we were no longer just two names.

Shortly after that meeting the young artist was awarded more money; Montserrat awarded her $36,000 over four years. The mom advised the financial office at the Maine College of Art in Portland, and her daughter’s first choice, what Montserrat had offered.  She outlined their personal and financial profile, and shortly thereafter was advised by mail that Maine had awarded her daughter about $80,000 over four years.

“I spent 10 minutes reading that letter over and over. They had tossed the money into an incoming grant and a talent award,” said the mom, who was washing carpets at home that morning.

It worked out nicely for this family, because the mom can afford to pay $5,000 a year out of pocket, and borrow $7,000 a year for college, and best yet, for her daughter, who will not be going full-time to Brooks University. Not enough art supplies in Brooks for this artist.

Things are better now in their household. “Maine heard our story and opened their arms to my daughter. The two meshed and how can she disappoint them now? Life has its pressures,” she said, “and this is not a bad pressure to live up to now.”

That said, I suggest parents get a general idea of what college is going to cost early on, because as good as this family’s story turned out, you might not be as lucky. For a cursory look at what school is going to cost, go to www.finaid.org/calculators/, which has links to FinAid, The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid popular financial calculators.

The Expected Family Contribution calculator will help you to determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). It will estimate student financial aid. It’s a free service, and it should be looked at as a starting point.

You might also click on www.finaid.org/questions/faq.phtml#general for a list of frequently asked questions about financial aid. Spin through the the FAQs, the EFC calculator and then call the financial aid offices at the schools that your son or daughter is thinking of attending. Computer helpers are a good place to start, but to get a better sense of the actual cost speak to someone in the financial aid office.

If you’re going to seek financial aid, you’re eventually going to have this conversation, so why not do it before your kid test drives a school that you might not want to afford.

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