Sending a child to college is a major step paved with years of hard work and significant decisions. Parents and students often consider the location, programs, and campus advantages. However, they should not overlook the financial aspects as they affect a student’s performance and achievements during and after college.
According to the College Board, the average debt per borrower who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2017-18 was $29,000. So, even if a college education could lead to more rewarding and profitable career opportunities in the future, the price tag should not be overlooked because your ward will be saddled with student debt for decades.
Here are five common financial mistakes you can avoid when choosing a college.
1. Not Considering The Return On Investment (ROI) Of Attending College
It is no secret that college education is getting more expensive and employment opportunities are not so robust in a tough economy. So, the first thing every parent should consider is whether your child’s selected major could lead to a well-paid job and a return on investment. It means you should borrow less than the amount your child will earn after the first year of graduation if not, it will lead to financial hardship. The Department of Education has a scorecard where you can find information about the potential salaries for students in different careers.
2. Not Doing An Analysis Of Costs And Benefits
Besides considering whether a college is a good fit academically, socially, and environmentally, it is crucial to compare the total resources and consider whether it is affordable too. So, consider the college savings, contributions from income, grants, scholarships, and the average cost of living. Then take a reasonable amount of debt against the total cost of a college education. If your resources fall short or are equal to the four-year net price then it is affordable if not, you may have to borrow in excess to cover the costs. It may result in the student dropping out of college, transferring to a less-expensive college, or hindering them from following their dreams in the future.
3. Parents Or Grandparents Co-Signing A Student Loan
While it might be tempting to co-sign the student loan to alleviate your child’s or grandchild’s debt or significantly lower the interest rate, you need to be aware that a co-signer is essentially a co-borrower. So, it can impact your credit, credit history, and financial stability.
If the student is late with the student loan payment or defaults you are both in debt. It will also impact your ability to borrow even if the loan payments are paid on time. For example, if you want to get a refinance mortgage loan, the loan will be counted as part of your debt and significantly affect being approved for a mortgage or getting a better interest rate.
4. Not Applying For Scholarships
Scholarships and grants are by far the best way to reduce college costs, yet are one the most under-utilized tools for most students. There are many reasons they are hard to come by, take time to apply for, and not doing proper research. Bypassing scholarships is not a wise move as it is a form of “gift aid”. Community colleges also offer numerous scholarships. You do not have to have excellent grades or test scores as there are scholarships based on certain other criteria like being good at sports or music etc. Colleges will see you as a valuable addition due to these skills and provide you with a scholarship.
Therefore, you should spare time to apply for as many scholarships as possible because it is usually just a matter of submitting a one-page essay and an unofficial transcript. Also, do not forget to follow the instructions and provide all the necessary documents and information. It will give you an edge over the competition as many students overlook this final step. Some scholarships have an application fee, so have a “scholarship fund” if you can. By doing this, the odds will be in your favor and you will be able to pay for a large portion of your college fees.
5. Not Filing The FAFSA
Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) is the key for students to discover student aid. Many students do not fill up the form because they wrongly think they do not qualify or will not get much money out of it. But, it is an invaluable tool as it helps a student qualify for Federal Grants and determines if they can receive work-study and outside scholarships. Plus, if you want to take out Federal Student Loans, you will not qualify for them as you have not filled out the FAFSA.
Do not put off applying as you could miss out on grants and scholarships as many of them are need-based aid and handed out automatically on a first-come, first-served basis.
The FAFSA has an eighteen-month cycle, so you can start to file as early as October 1, but you need to check the deadlines for each state and school so that you do not miss the cut-off. You can also fill it out online at fafsa.ed.gov.
The financial aspects of college can be daunting. However, if you are willing to do the legwork and avoid financial mistakes you can reduce the cost of your education.