Your Best Strategy® to Pay for College

The four key areas that must be considered in the process of determining Your Best Strategy® to pay for college and save for retirement are: College selection, financial aid, tax aid and personal resources.  To make intelligent decisions in these four areas requires specialized knowledge of college admissions, financial aid, taxes, and financial planning. Even if you have people advising you in these areas, it can be difficult to pull that expertise together specifically for college planning and retirement purposes. Let’s take a look at an example to gain perspective. Parental income is the biggest factor in the calculation of a student’s expected family contribution (EFC), the minimum amount the student/family is expected to contribute toward the cost of college. The most common allowances against income in the EFC formula are: federal taxes, state taxes, FICA taxes, and an income protection allowance.

So the amount of taxes you pay helps reduce the amount of income that gets calculated in the EFC formula. Therefore, the more tax the parents pay, the lower the EFC is. But conventional financial planning strives to help parents pay less tax, not more. So you can begin to see how complicated college planning can be by just looking at two variables.Things like retirement plan contributions, whose names assets are saved in and what types of ac‐ counts those assets are in, are also big factors in determining EFC. The reason that a student’s EFC is so important is because it is part of what is referred to as financial need analysis, where the EFC gets subtracted from a college’s total cost of attendance to determine if the student has “need” for financial aid (Cost—EFC = Financial Need).

So it is safe to say that anything that affects your income, taxes and non‐retirement assets may also affect a student’s EFC, and therefore possibly the student’s aid eligibility. However, note that the first variable in the need analysis formula is the cost of college.Therefore, you can see that college selection may directly affect a student’s aid eligibility because, based on cost, a student with an EFC of $20,000 will demonstrate need at a college costing $45,000, but not at another college costing $18,000 per year. Moreover, the American Opportunity Tax Credit is an example of what we refer to as “Tax Aid”, and is available to some taxpayers when they pay qualified college tuition costs. So college selection, financial aid, tax aid and your personal resources are all interconnected. Which is especially important considering that what parents spend on college they don’t have to save for their retirement. It is fair to say that there is a lot more to college planning than applying to a few colleges and completing a financial aid form. Moreover, the college decisions you make today will create ripple effects for years to come. Hopefully this newsletter will help you make them well.

Comments Off on Your Best Strategy® to Pay for College

Your College Search

What do Lewisburg, PA, Brunswick, ME, Clinton, NY, Gambier, OH; Northfield, MN and Middletown, CT all have in common? They are each home to some of the finest examples of post‐ secondary education in the United States. Bucknell, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Kenyon, Carleton and Wesleyan along with a few thousand others are what make this country so rich, so envied in the global educational hierarchy.  Why, do you suppose, with all of the obstacles presented by endless application requirements, restrictive immigration procedures, out‐of‐sight costs of attendance and all‐too‐often blatant cultural insensitivities, do half a million foreign students per year continue to flock to these shores to be schooled? Simply put, because our schools are the best in the world! Sure, there are Oxford and Cambridge, Polytechnique and HEC, Monash, Keio and McGill, but for sheer numbers and overall quality, no nation on earth can rival ours when it comes to getting a college degree.  That doesn’t mean that college is for everyone, but the majority of high school students that do choose the college path can select from a wide variety of two‐year and four‐year programs to earn an associate degree, bachelors degree, or even pursue a masters or PhD. So there are a lot of colleges, with a lot of majors and degree programs in America from which to choose.  The biggest challenge then often becomes how to navigate through all of those colleges, degree programs and areas of study, without becoming overwhelmed, confused and frustrated. Constructing a narrowed list of potential colleges, investigating them thoroughly, identifying those that best meet your needs and choosing a final grouping which represents the best choices for you or your child is extremely important.  With proper attention, focus and realistic expectations, this is not a terribly difficult exercise. There are, though, a few rules to follow as you embark on this exciting quest.

First, do not play the “name game.”  What is Dartmouth, anyhow? Or Andover or Groton? Or Stanford, Rice or Smith? For one, they are wonderful examples of education at its finest. For another, they are about as different as they can be with very diverse communities, philosophies and pedagogies.  So, if you think you know a place because you’ve heard of it, your friends go there or their basketball team played in the NCAA basketball tournament … well, you don’t. And don’t bother with rankings which purport to rate schools and colleges on some scale by manipulating suspect data and employing meaningless methodologies.  Your mission, remember, is to figure out what works for you and find those institutions which value your unique characteristics. 

Second, cast your net widely.  Research all of those unusual names and places which you may never before have thought much about, and come away with a working file to go forward with.  Now, the real fun begins: the sense of discovery when your list of names takes on shape and size as you delve more deeply into what they have to offer you.  Read the guides, spend time exploring the web sites, take the virtual tours, scan the school newspapers, email a teacher or professor in a field that you find interesting, join the chats, correspond with a student and, eventually, arrange for an actual campus visit.

Third, when you go for a visit do it all. Take the formal tour. Ask questions regardless of how reticent you may be, and listen to the answers. Arrange for an interview where you can, and remember the name of the person with whom you spoke; it’s a good idea to get their card and write a simple thank you note, because you may want to stay in touch. Then go out on your own and really look around campus. Visit a dorm, a lecture hall or classroom, the lounge, café or student center. Summon the courage to ask a student what they like about being there and most will be happy to talk with you.  Now that list of yours has some flesh and blood! When you get around to refining it, you’ll have reasons for why certain schools will remain and why others can be crossed off. It will be your list, for your reasons, and to your specifications. You know what’s good for you.

Now it’s time to talk about how admissions committees know if you are good for them.  Enrollment committees seek to construct the truth about candidates as best as they can. Naturally, as a candidate for admission you have the most to say about who you are and why an institution should desire your presence in its fold. When you say what you have to say, be honest, straightforward and genuine in your presentation of yourself. Occasionally, we lose sight of exactly what college is really all about, that is academics! Sure, there are lots of other activities associated with attending educational institutions, but what matters most to admissions committees is success in the most rigorous curriculum for which you qualify and a showing on standardized testing commensurate with your ability. Nothing can change this reality. Therefore, your most important task will be to soberly and objectively assess your academic performance as it relates to an institution’s profile and make your selections accordingly. Yes, personal statements can be compelling, especially if they emphasize a unique aspect of your character or point out something positive not otherwise apparent in your application. Teacher recommendations can make persuasive arguments as to why you deserve to be seriously considered as a force in the classroom. Athletic, creative or artistic talent can be highlighted, especially where these traits are valued, and exceptional service can be touted, since it describes the potential contribution you will make to your new community.  However, there is no substitute for the highest achievement in the most demanding courses, accompanied by stellar performance on entrance exams. That’s just the way it is, so don’t get too caught up in what you might have read about needing lots of community service or extracurricular activities. You now know what really matters most; academics!

Going to visit some colleges? We can help you estimate your aid eligibility and likelihood of admission, before you visit.

Comments Off on Your College Search

High School Juniors: The Admission Process

November is the time for high school juniors to begin the admissions process. One thing that often proves useful is sitting for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI will give you and your student a wonderful insight into how their personality type can help identify careers that will play to their strengths. Another benefit of the MBTI is that students can begin to focus on majors that will help prepare them for their career.

This exercise can prove invaluable in finding the right college fit, too. Colleges have a personality, of sorts, just like people. By finding a compatible match the student can learn in an environment where they will get the most out of their education, not just go through the motions.

Other activities include preparing for standardized tests. Even though you won’t know the results of the PSAT until December, it can take as long as a year to build up a needed vocabulary. One small thing your student can do is to take the initiative and sign up for The Official SAT Question of the Day™ and have math and verbal questions sent to their email. You can be cc’d as well and you know what? It’s kind of fun. This can be a way to stay connected with your student through the process. Of course, it won’t help unless your student checks their email, which too many don’t these days. It’s too bad the questions can’t be sent by text!

Just so you are aware, the SAT, which is more of a reasoning test that many students haven’t been adequately prepared to take, isn’t the be all and end all of standardized tests. There is the ACT, which is more of an achievement test and results are accepted at all colleges and universities. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for answers.

Comments Off on High School Juniors: The Admission Process