Families Can Better Afford College if They Strategize Early

USA Today

By Michelle Healy
October 5, 2010

Families have a tough time paying for college in today’s tight economy, but there are things they can do to make college more affordable and attainable.

One key is applying to a variety of schools — public, private, in-state, and a local community college as a backup plan, recommends admissions consultant Katherine Cohen of IvyWise.com.

In an online survey of 137 families with college-bound students, IvyWise and media partner NextStepU found that more than a third said it was likely that their child would go to community college for two years, then transfer to a four-year school. In 2008, only 13% said that was likely.

Make sure every school you apply to is one you would be happy to attend, but also make sure you have one you can get into and afford, Cohen says. “You have to think about fit in so many ways.”

It’s also important to start thinking early about how to keep college costs down, such as taking Advanced Placement courses in high school and earning college credit by scoring well on exams. “Taking eight AP exams and scoring 4s and 5s can translate into one year of college” at many colleges and “can decrease your costs by 25%,” she says.

Start saving early, if possible, not only for the cost of attending but also for the cost of applying. “There are a lot of hidden costs — from exam fees to application fees to test prep courses to the costs of visiting colleges — that go into applying to college,” Cohen notes. One-fifth of families surveyed said they have saved nothing for their child’s college education; another fifth said they have saved less than $5,000. “We thought families would have saved more,” Cohen says.

The survey also found that 13% of parents said their child is changing their major to one that might have more income potential at graduation. That’s up from 4.3% of families in 2008.

“Students should pursue their dreams,” Cohen says, but opting for a double major may be one way to do that and add value to your degree.