1. Students MUST Graduate Within Four Years: Families can easily lose $25,000 to $50,000 for every additional year a student spends in college. Money lost from not being in the workforce counts just as much as the money for tuition.
2. Prequalify Your Child: Parents and counselors need to "prequalify" students before they apply to colleges. Just like a realtor wouldn't take you to see certain houses, the college list starts with colleges that line up academically and financially.
3. Pay the Interest from Day One: We all know the benefits and pitfalls of compound interest. Paying $20.00 to $50.00 a month can easily save $6,000 to $12,000 over the life of student debt. For some students the amount is much more.
4. The Best Scholarships Come from the Colleges: For most students, the most generous scholarships come directly from the colleges themselves, not outside sources. College awards, based on merit and need, can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. These are the best ones to investigate and pursue.
5. Savings: Start Now, No Matter How Old Your Child Is: Even if your child is a senior in high school start now. Money grows, and college will probably last at least four years. Get relatives involved. There are some great, little-known advantages. (See below.)
6. Grandma’s Secret 529 Strategy: When is the best time to let Grandma contribute to your child’s college education? Suggestion: Wait until they start their senior year even if it means adding to their student loan debt. Why? (That’s the secret part.)
7. When It Doesn’t Pay to Accept that Scholarship: In most cases, if an organization awards a student a $1,000 scholarship the college will usually reduce their aid package by that amount. You need to ask the college if scholarships are “stackable.” Usually the answer is, “No.”
8. SAT Points = Money: Colleges have charts that show how much merit aid they will offer based on an applicant’s SAT score and their major. Bonus: Taking the SAT three times is recommended, along with quality SAT prep.
9. Calculate Student Debt Even Before You Start: Planning is key. There should be no surprises. Anticipated student loan debt should be one of the first criteria for choosing a school. Each college, each major, and each student is different.
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Chris Hitchens has worked with hundreds of students as he developed and taught the course titled “College and Career and Symposium." He is an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Associate, IECA, and now works exclusively as an advocate for families as an educational counselor.