Planning Ahead Financially
Since 1960, the total cost of attending college in the United States has soared ninefold for public four-year colleges and twelvefold for private four-year institutions. But don’t rule out a school because it seems too expensive. Financial aid may bring the cost down into an affordable range. Almost half of all college students, from a wide range of economic backgrounds, receive monetary assistance in the form of grants and scholarships, loans and work-study programs. Every year, approximately $50 billion is available, three-fourths of it from the federal government. States contribute, too, as do colleges themselves, and various scholarship organizations and foundations. One of the main jobs of a college financial-aid administrator is to procure funding from these different sources and present eligible candidates with a financial-aid package.
When It’s Time to Apply to College
Fall, the season of change, is when high-school seniors typically begin mailing their college applications (certified, please; return receipt requested) or filing them via the Internet. Let’s say that your teen has decided to apply to six schools, an average number. Guidance counselors generally recommend picking one or two “reaches”—longshots, in other words—and including one or two sure bets. The rest of your child’s choices should be colleges where his qualifications seem comparable to those of the average undergrad at each one.
The first of the year is the usual filing deadline for September classes. (Colleges that operate on what’s called a rolling basis accept applications throughout the year.) Some students, however, elect to apply early, under an early decision plan or an early action plan. Approximately three hundred institutions offer one or both of these arrangements.
An early decision plan is binding, meaning that the candidate must commit to attending the school if accepted, provided that the financial-aid package offered is adequate. The decision is made quickly; submit your application by November, and you’ll receive word sometime in December.
Early action plans are not binding. Notification typically comes in January or February, still well in advance of the usual acceptance date.
Applying early wins applicants the most attractive financial-aid packages and first crack at choosing a dorm room. They also get to enjoy their last six months of high school knowing where they’ll be headed come September. However, this process is not recommended for everyone. If your teenager isn’t absolutely certain that he wants to attend a particular college, or if he wants to play free agent later in the spring and weigh offers of financial incentives from several schools, he should apply according to the standard schedule.