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Putting it All Together
We've written this as a guide to an important conversation with your family. It isn't an "everything you need to know about financial aid guide," but instead, it frames the larger financial questions every family faces when making a college decision. Because so many others have found this helpful, we hope this will help you to facilitate your own discussion. At Northland we recognize that paying for college can be a challenge, and we appreciate the sacrifice that families make so that their sons and daughters can receive a high quality education. We do our best to ensure everyone has a personalized college experience. And we can do it in four years.
How will you sort out the financial side of your college decision? Although the details will differ for every family, the two worksheets that follow provide a helpful outline for these conversations. It starts with a worksheet that's simple, very important, and too often overlooked. Simply put, it's not about who offers you the biggest scholarship. The real cost (YOUR COST seen below) to you and your family is the difference between the cost of the college and the scholarship and grant assistance you receive.
- Be certain you have costs for the 2013-14 academic year. Brochures and websites may have been published with 2012-13 costs. If you don't have those costs for next year,
call the Business Office.
- Make sure you're considering all the fees you would pay as a first-year student. They do add up, and you may need to check websites to figure this out.
- YOUR COST doesn't include other forms of financial aid, for example campus jobs and college loans. We'll consider them on the next worksheet.
YOUR COST will be different for every college you consider. There is tremendous variety among colleges in everything from size, location and programs to the emphasis they place on quality teaching and student-faculty interactions. As you would expect, different college experiences will produce different results in your career, community involvement, and values. In fact, you chose to apply to institutions because they were different, not because they were the same as all the other college choices available. These choices represent matches with your individual needs, strengths and interests. Your college decision hinges on whether you believe those differences are worth the investment. Be confident that your decision is financially possible!
That's what Worksheet 2 (below) is all about. When you choose a college, you and your family have choices about how you manage your investment. Here, we offer thoughts and solutions that other Northland families are using. Nearly all students from all types of financial backgrounds receive some combination of scholarships, grants, loans and campus employment. Without that, and the supportive choices their families make, their Northland College degrees wouldn't be possible. Complete Worksheet 2 to see if some of their solutions will work for you, too.
Once you've established YOUR COST, the next step is to determine what you and your parents can contribute from your current and future resources. Nearly all families should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Here are some things you should know about the FAFSA:
- The formulas are created by the federal government, which means the data and analysis will be the same at all institutions. The FAFSA treats families fairly, at least in the sense that the rules are the same for all.
- It's required for all state and federal programs as a means of distributing grants to those who need them.
- It's required for many lower interest federal loan programs that are available to all students.
- Filing the FAFSA is free at www.fafsa.ed.gov. We will have the results within 48 hours. Feel free to call us at (800) 753-1840 with any questions. Northland's School Code is 003875.
- If you're in doubt about whether to file the FAFSA, we're available to help you through that decision.
The key figure that comes from the FAFSA is called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). It consists of two parts, Parent Contribution and Student Contribution. Here are some things to consider:
- The EFC is based on the idea that the first responsibility for paying for education rests with you and your family.
- That said, the EFC is, at best, a rough guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. Keep the figure in mind as you discuss Parent Resources and Student Resources. The following two sections on resources refer to Worksheet 2.
- Redirected Expenses: Families often make the mistake of thinking about their current budget when deciding how much they can afford the following year. That potentially ignores how expensive it is to have a high school senior in the house. Considering everything from food to car insurance to water bills, economists suggest a cost savings of at least $3,000 per year.
- Savings & Investments: Have you been planning for college costs? The FAFSA calculations are based primarily on income, do not tap retirement programs, and expect a contribution from savings only at relatively high asset levels.
- Tax Credits: The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides up to $2,500 per year and is available to most lower and middle income families. This is direct reduction of your federal taxes.
- Savings & Investments: Unlike savings in your parent's name, the FAFSA does expect students to contribute their savings toward their college expenses.
- Outside Scholarships: If you haven't already done so, check with your high school counselor about scholarships that may be available to students in your community.
- Summer Earnings: Yes, you need a summer job and, depending on other choices you make on this worksheet, you need to be serious about saving what you earn.
- On and Off Campus Employment: Students working seven hours a week during the academic year can expect to earn about $1,600. Like all jobs, campus employment is paid as you earn it, so don't plan on having this available at the start of the year. However, as the year progresses, this will be your source for books, toothpaste, pizza and travel home.
- Other Assistance: Approximately one-quarter of all college students receive some financial help from other sources, often a grandparent or employer.
Loans are at the bottom of this page for a reason. They've been a fact of life for nearly all college students for the past 30 years. Last year's Northland graduates had an average loan balance of approximately $23,000, less than at most other private colleges. It's also less than the average at most public universities where the students may borrow a similar amount per year but accumulate more debt because their degrees take significantly longer to complete. Loans are at the bottom of the worksheet because they fill in the gaps after you've considered the other choices.
There are good loans and bad loans. Few of us can pay cash for our home so we spread those payments over a 30-year period. And, in the long run, our homes increase in value, making them not only a place to live, but a reasonable investment as well. Or, think about car loans. Whether new or used, it's not uncommon to finance your car over a five-year period. But, at the end of five years, the car is certainly worth far less than it was originally and eventually people buy another car and start that borrowing cycle all over again. Then, there's credit card debt. Some of the purchases may be for what you need and some may be for what you want. That can dig a deep hole.
Where do college loans fit?
Probably more like the mortgage on the house:
- They enable you to pay for an education over a 14-year period rather than four.
- College is a one-time purchase.
- Interest on student loans is tax deductible. Even better, the federal government pays the interest on most student loans during your years in college.
- Your degree continues to grow in value. On average, college graduates earn $1 million more during their lifetime than high school graduates.
Payments are generally deferred while you're in college with repayment starting after you enter your career. Some parents use a home equity loan to pay tuition because the interest is deductible. Will you regret borrowing for an education that really meets your needs? In a recent survey of private college graduates, more than 98 percent said borrowing for college was a worthwhile investment. No regrets.
As a final thought, at this time of year it often seems like cost and financial aid issues dominate the discussion. It's good to remember that your college search started with a focus on the best match between your interests and the strengths of the college. Ultimately, that's where you should end your search as well. It's not all about dollars; it's about the investment in your future.
We hope this has been helpful, especially in facilitating a conversation with your family. If at any point you would like our input in this conversation, call us!
Office of Admissions • 1411 Ellis Avenue, Ashland, WI 54806 • (800) 753-1840