Demystifying the Price of College (Forbes)

There are several key truths about paying for college: prices are going up, parents want to do all they can for their kids, and the real price families will pay is a mystery. Thus, why it was so scary for families trying to put away whatever they can in college savings accounts when President Obama recently proposed and then retracted a tax on withdrawals from college savings.

However, parents can find clues and resources along the way to find what they’ll really pay for college.  One of the best resources are net price calculators.

The requirement for colleges and universities to post net price calculators on their websites are one of the best things to ever happen for families trying to assess the true cost of  an education. A net price is what a student is charged after scholarships, grants and other monies the student is eligible to receive are deducted. For instance, if a student receives $40,000 in scholarships and grants from a school with an annual cost of attendance of $60,000, the net price is $20,000.

Read Reyna Gobel’s article for clarification on true college costs and net price calculators

How To Talk Your Teen Down from High-Priced Colleges (MainStreet)

“I want to go to University of Miami, because they have an awesome football team,” my daughter, then a junior in high school, announced. “Julie’s going there and I think I can get in, too.”

What would you say?

I simply told her we couldn’t afford the private school tuition of University of Miami, with its intimidating $60,906 annual bill. She had not even thought about the price tag and was shocked. Then, we discussed colleges that cost less and ways to reduce that cost further. My daughter is a tall and athletic volleyball player, who, after a lifetime of training and competing, constant correspondence with college coaches and many official college visits and volleyball tryouts, was offered two scholarships from two different colleges, both out of state. One offered a generous athletic scholarship plus $7,000 more for her GPA and SAT/ACT scores bringing the total scholarship amount to almost 70% of the total cost of attendance, much less than the in-state schools would cost without the scholarship. So which one do you think we chose?

Read Naomi Mannino’s article for questions to ask before planning financially for college.

3 College Savings Trends to Consider in 2015 (US News)

For many Americans, the beginning of the year is a time to set goals –goals that are often financial. And while getting out of debt, socking away cash for retirement and earning more income are all noble resolutions for 2015, for parents of children near college age and even younger, saving for college is likely at the top of the list.

There are certainly some tried-and-true options to help families save for college, but the new year brings an opportunity to consider some lesser known, but equally effective, strategies.

Read Andrea Williams’ article for three popular college savings trends for 2015

How to shape your college visit list (Citizen-Times)

For many students and their families, spring is the time to make final decisions on where they are going to make a college commitments and send in deposits. For some students this is a simple decision and a joyful time, but for many students and parents, this season can be a time of stress and second-guessing.

While there will always be a certain level of uneasiness with this decision, there are a number of steps that can be taken to help ease the anxiety for everyone involved.

First and foremost, do your research when making your list of college to which you are going to apply. This is a crucial part of the process and one that requires planning and patience. Even if your student thinks he or she knows where he or she wants to apply, don’t make a hasty decision of what to put on the list. Make every effort to visit as many colleges as possible. It is beneficial to visit many kinds of schools — large and small, urban and rural, public and private. Many times, this process will cause students to significantly change their original lists.

Don’t limit yourself to the first schools that you can think of or that you saw play today on ESPN. While those can be a great choice for some students, there are hundreds more universities that could be a better fit for your child. There are more than 2,800 four-year universities in the United States. The more exposure a student can get to different kinds of schools in the search process, the better.

A great selection to read during the college search process is “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges,” by Loren Pope. This guide helps some families to lower their anxiety about the pressure to apply to only name-brand universities and helps other families to become aware of options that they might not have been aware of earlier. In addition to raising awareness about some lesser-known colleges, it provides an important perspective for readers to consider when making their college selection priority list.

Read Lincoln Gray’s article for more college visit planning advice

5 reasons why your financial aid package changed (The Prospect)

Finishing up this year’s round of FAFSA applications, you may have found that your package has changed since you last applied. The reasons for increases or decreases can range from differences on the government, school, or family side of the arrangements. Shifts can usually be adjusted to, but first you must be aware of them and know where they are coming from.

Read the article for five major sources of financial aid package changes

The Truth About College Prep: Why Students Should Start Early (Huffington Post)

It’s never too early to start planning for college. For high school freshmen and sophomores the process may seem far off, but before they know it, they will be facing the end of junior year. If students haven’t prepared, there will be a lot of work ahead of them.

Don’t get me wrong – getting into college is hard work even if you’ve planned ahead – but the burden can be a lot easier toward the end if students are proactive throughout high school.

With over 4,000 colleges and universities in the US, the possibilities for higher education are endless. By doing ample research, students are sure to find schools that are great academic, personal, and financial fits – and with the average amount of student debt reaching $33,000 for the graduating college class of 2014, it’s important for families to do their due diligence to find institutions where students have the best chance to graduate within four years with minimal debt.

Here’s why it’s important for students and families to start planning for college as soon as possible.

Read Kat Cohen’s article for more on why students should start planning for college early

7 Legal Ways to Squeeze More College Aid From the FAFSA (Time)

Filling out the 10 eye-crossing pages of the 2015-16 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the most important application for need-based college financial aid, may not seem like a fun adventure in Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom. But hidden among its 103 questions are hints that, if followed correctly, can dramatically increase your need-based aid and possibly rescue your dreams of an affordable college education.

Before you spend a lot of time on this, though, use a few college Net Price Calculators, the federal government’s FAFSA Forecaster, or the College Board’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator to see whether you’re likely to receive any need-based aid. If you’re planning to attend an in-state public college, and your family has an Expected Family Contribution (or EFC) above about $25,000 (which general means the family income is above $125,000) the odds of getting need-based grants are very low, says Paula Bishop, an independent financial aid counselor in Bellevue, Wash. For students planning on private colleges, the need-based aid EFC cutoff is generally about $65,000, she says (which typically means the family has an income greater than $200,000).

If you’re above those cutoffs, it still pays to fill out the FAFSA to qualify yourself for low-cost student loans, and merit programs that require the form, but your focus should be on maximizing merit aid – which is money awarded based on the student’s grades or other accomplishments without regard to family income.

Read Kim Clark’s article for a “not-cheating” FAFSA cheat sheet for anyone below those cutoffs