If you want the most up-to-date information on what’s going on with the FAFSA form, new dates, new restrictions and new regulations, and, most important, new ways to pay as little as legally possible for college, then my best recommendation for a sound financial investment is the recently released “Paying For College Without Going Broke: 2017 Edition” by Kalman Chany (Princeton Review).
I’m not alone. Gail Marks Jarvis, the personal finance columnist for the Chicago Tribune said, “Get this book, and don’t just read it — study it. The steps Chany suggests … truly do work.”
We all know that a college education is a wise investment. For most people it is the second-largest investment, after their home, that they will ever make. College degree holders on average have greater lifetime earnings, lower unemployment rates and even longer lives than people with only a high school diploma. But paying for college is tough. The average sticker price (tuition, fees, room and board) at public four-year colleges for 2015-16 was $19,548 (for in-state students) — a 3.3 percent increase over 2014-15. At private four-year colleges it was $43,921 — a 3.5 percent increase over 2014-15. For more than 25 years, average college costs have annually risen higher than the rate of inflation. Now, more than 60 colleges have a sticker price that’s over $60,000 a year.
Read that line again: Annual college costs top $60,000 at more than 60 colleges across the country! Think about what your parents and grandparents would say to that.
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Not surprisingly, the need for financial aid (and also the competition for it) is commensurately higher than ever. Among 10,434 college applicants and parents surveyed as part of The Princeton Review’s 2016 “College Hopes & Worries” survey (http://www.princetonreview.com/college-hopes-worries), 88 percent said financial aid would be very necessary to them to pay for college. Within that cohort, 65 percent deemed it extremely necessary. Unfortunately, most students and parents know little about how the aid application process works, how aid awards are determined, or how to maximize their eligibility for aid.
And this year, due to changes going into effect regarding the upcoming school year’s FAFSA (the 100-plus question Free Application for Federal Student Aid form that all aid applicants must submit), it is even more crucial for applicants to do their homework on when and how best to apply for financial aid. The FAFSA was released on Oct. 1 (in prior years it has been released later in the academic year, on Jan. 1), and its earlier release time is just one of the key changes that aid applicants for next year, as well those planning for college costs down the road, will need to get savvy about.
I recommend you purchase the book, grab your highlighter, sit a spell, make a list of what you need to do and then follow through. There is a substantial amount of money available from the U.S. government as well as institutional aid directly from colleges and universities. However, you need to follow the basics of filling out the FAFSA and in many cases the CSS profile.
The book and your child’s education are both worth it.
Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.