College Career Financial Planning

Financial Planning as You Embark on Your College Career

Julian Hills is a content writer and blogger for His journalism career has taken him from newspapers to local television news stations and even a 24-hour cable network in the Southeast. Julian is a graduate of Florida State University who enjoys finding new ways of saving money for football season tickets.

Getting accepted to a college or university is a big deal, but in many cases it’s the beginning of an uphill financial climb. Some people end up not attending college because they don’t have the money to pay for it. You don’t want to let an opportunity like that slip away.

That is why it’s important to have a financial plan to pay for your education. Most people — not just families struggling financially — apply for some sort of financial aid like grants, scholarships and loans.

Cost of attendance is the total of a college’s tuition fees, room and board, books, travel and attendance.

There are options available to pay for all of this, figuring out what’s out there and where to start will provide some framework to get you on your journey to embark on your college career.

Calculate Your College Costs

A Net Price Calculator is probably a very good place to start when it comes to getting an idea on planning for college. It’s an online tool intended to help families estimate how much they will pay for college for a full-time undergraduate freshman for one year.  A federal mandate requires colleges and universities to have a net price calculator on their websites.

Apply for Financial Aid

The majority of financial aid comes from the federal government which uses formulas to determine need based on household income. However, many colleges offer their own aid to talented students of all incomes. This is often done to make their institutions more competitive.

Students and their families looking to finance college often begin by completing one or both of these forms: The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and a CSS Financial Aid Profile. 

  • ·         FAFSA: Any college or university that awards federal aid requires that students complete this form. It’s also used to determine state aid as well.
  • ·         CSS Profile: This is an online application that collects information used by certain colleges and scholarship programs designates an institution’s own financial aid to students. About 300 colleges require a CSS profile — many of them Ivy League or elite private colleges.

Determining Need-Based Aid

The information collected from these aid forms calculates something called The Expected Family Contribution (EFC.) It is the minimum amount of money determined that a student’s family should be able to contribute based on parents’ combined income, assets and number of dependent children enrolled in school.

Schools determine financial need by subtracting EFC from the cost to attend a particular school.


  • ·         Some estimates show that a student whose family has an income of $70,000 and two dependent children, have an EFC of $7,513. That student would be eligible for need-based scholarships, work-study programs and student loans.
  • ·         A student with a family income of $250,000 with one dependent child would not qualify for need-based aid. Their EFC would be nearly $68,000.

Even if a student qualifies for need-based aid, it does not mean the institution will pay 100 percent of it. Parents still may have to qualify for other types of aid that will help them cover the costs.

Look into Merit Aid

Families can also look for merit aid which is usually a scholarship based on a student’s achievement. Usually this money does not have to be repaid and can be given to anyone. Standardize test scores and grade point averages are usually two determining factors for merit aid, but many students receive this money for other achievements like artistic abilities or athletics.

If your child qualifies for financial aid and gets a merit-based scholarship, colleges will reduce the amount of need-based aid they provide. This is also true for any other private scholarships, state grants or outside aid.

Plan on Avoiding Massive Debt

It’s very important to consider all of your total costs when deciding how to pay for school. Even though taking out loans to pay for school can provide amazing opportunities, you can easily find yourself in thousands and thousands of dollars in debt when it’s over.

Just remember they are not the only option. That’s why planning and knowing what’s out there is essential.   

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