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Q&A: What is often overlooked when planning for college?

Tracy St. John
by Tracy St. John, The Garrett Network  (@FinancialAvenue)

College planning can be overwhelming!

I am beginning the planning myself with my 16-year-old daughter.

I looked on her school’s website and found several links to online resources for college planning and after going to the first two, I was amazed at the complexity.

I have found that parents who do not plan in advance often end up paying more and are forced to select second and third alternatives for school choices.

READ: Some states have made college financial aid explicitly 'first-come, first-served'

Areas that are usually overlooked are:

1. Not researching salaries and job opportunities related to their student’s career choice prior to college. It can happen that students spend money for four to five years of college, assume a load of student debt and upon graduation find no jobs in their fields.

2. Not getting involved while in high school. To stand out when applying to college and for scholarships, students need to provide their track record of extra-curricular school activities, as well as community volunteer work. And, they can’t wait until second semester of senior year because many scholarship deadlines are in the fall and early spring.

3. Not completing the FAFSA. Adults who feel their income and their assets will eliminate them from any financial aid do not even complete the Free Application For Student Financial Aid (FAFSA), yet this application also provides scholarship and grant opportunities, as well as possible on-campus jobs. Complete the FAFSA every year regardless of your family income.

4. Not applying for scholarships. Students may by-pass them because they are time consuming. Or, the scholarships may require an essay and they do not like to write. These, in fact, are the very opportunities that have less competition. There are many local, regional and national scholarships offered by employers and every $500 and $1,000 scholarship awarded will be a benefit.

READ: Why you should pay off your student loans early

5. Missing deadlines. Watch missing deadlines for applications to a first choice for schools or finding out that scholarships your student could have gotten are unavailable due to missed deadlines. Create a spreadsheet that lists all of the deadlines for the planned applications and then work through them.

6. Not having a cushion of funds for all the unexpected “extra” costs. This could be parking fees, laundry costs, Greek life or various student club fees. For students living off-campus, there are several costs associated with renting an apartment to consider.

Start early (before your student’s senior year of high school) and your efforts will give your student more opportunities to receive first-choice acceptances, minimize debt through possible scholarships and be prepared for the degree that will offer job opportunities.


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Tracy St. John is the founder of Financial Avenues, LLC, a Fee-Only financial planning and investment advisory firm. She obtained her Masters Degree in Family Financial Planning as well as a Certificate in Personal Financial Planning through Kansas State University.