3 Mistakes a College Planning Consultant Helps You Avoid

Andrew Steffensmeier

Small business preparation and planning, investment advisory services, business tax planning services

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When looking for ways to protect your finances while still ensuring your children receive the best education possible, there’s no better place to start than with a college planning consultant. The truth is, there’s nothing more important than being prepared and planning for your child’s future — especially today as tuition reaches new heights. A college planning consultant can help guide you through the process and find the best plan for you and your family.

According to research provided by U.S. News, “the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2021-2022 school year is $43,775 at private colleges, $28,238 for out-of-state students at public schools and $11,631 for state residents at public colleges.” However, this number is likely to change depending on your child’s choice of school.

In the meantime, our team at McMill CPAs & Advisors is here to help small business owners and their families throughout Norfolk and Northeast Nebraska make the best decisions regarding college. Here are three mistakes a college planning consultant will help you avoid.

NOT CONSIDERING THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE ROUTE

More often than not, families dismiss the potential for community college even though the end result is usually the same. This is because of the common misconception that community college is less valid than colleges and universities that are more expensive, and often over-priced. Despite this fallacy, community college actually provides sound education and is commonly used as a means of saving some money before transferring to a more selective four-year college. 

According to Dr. Steve Robinson and Forbes, “More four-year colleges are seeing community college transfers as an important part of their own enrollment strategies… Selective colleges and universities are realizing these [community college] students help bring greater diversity to their student communities. Community college students are also 75% more likely to graduate, once they transfer to a four-year institution.”

Beyond college acceptance, there are many advantages for your child to attend a community college for two years before transferring to a university to complete their undergraduate degree or continue studying. To name a few:

  • You/they will save money on tuition debt.
  • A great way for students to transition from high school to college at their own pace (especially if they struggled in high school).
  • Most community colleges are offering the same ‘dorm’ and college experience as four-year colleges. 
  • Smaller class sizes mean more hands-on and personalized assistance from teachers.

To save even more and help with the high-school-to-college transition, you should also consider having your child take college credit courses offered during high school.

AVOIDING THE INCOME TALK

When it comes to college, the prices can be intimidating, and it can certainly get more intimidating if your child is considering more prestigious options. For this reason, it is a big mistake to avoid discussing your child’s goals and expectations. 

We’re not saying that money and projected future income is everything because it certainly is not. Your children should pursue what they are passionate about and what really gives them joy. However, it’s still worthwhile having the projected loan-to-income talk — meaning, we want you and your children to understand that some career choices will force them to pay off more loans, some careers will result in less financial freedom, and some careers may be changing rapidly.

In fact, Consumer Finance stresses the importance of “understanding that your career choices may influence your ability to repay student loans [and] determining how much student loan debt you [can] afford based on that career’s starting salary.”

This will not only give your child an idea of what career may be more beneficial to their interest and success but will also help you plan accordingly. For insurance, if starting pay is often less than you can afford with student loan debt, starting at a community college and transferring may be the solution — allowing your child to pursue their dreams and save where possible. 

NOT APPLYING FOR FAFSA

Another huge mistake to avoid is not applying for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While it is particularly helpful for students who need free financial assistance, it can also be beneficial in gaining access to The Stafford (Direct Federal Loan) and is required for some scholarships. So, fill it out regardless of your financial state. 

In fact, Nerd Wallet reports that in one academic year, “1,234,249 high school graduates didn’t fill out the FAFSA. Of these grads, we calculate 648,191 of them would have been Pell-eligible.” Their analysis found that “the average amount of money left on the table per eligible high school graduate who didn’t apply was $3,583. The total amount left on the table by all such grads was $2,319,016,315.” That’s billions of available dollars that weren’t tapped into by college students. 

The truth is, families consistently leave money on the table by neglecting federal aid. FAFSA, which is one of many financial aid opportunities, is an excellent resource for students who need it. Too often it is discarded by families just because they ‘think’ they won’t be eligible and don’t apply.

The process is fairly easy and straightforward — and you can always receive assistance to make it quick and easier — so there’s no reason not to check to see if your child is eligible for benefits. More often than not, you’ll see that you get it. 

BONUS: IGNORING SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Every university and/or community college offers dozens of scholarships that many students don’t know about, and almost all of those applications are free or very affordable. It’s not all just academic-based scholarships, either. Your child doesn’t have to specialize in an academic area to reap the benefits of additional financial help from colleges and foundations.

Spend time exploring your college’s scholarship offerings and local foundations to apply for as many as you can to increase your odds. The truth is, ignoring scholarship opportunities can do more harm than good in the long run, especially since maximizing your scholarships are great for lowering your potential for student loan debt. 

What’s more, if you receive more financial aid and scholarships than your tuition, you won’t only benefit from FREE school. You can also use that additional money for big-ticket items like a new laptop, printer, books, and more!

Looking for a College Planning Consultant?

At McMill CPAs & Advisors, we know how challenging and overwhelming it can be to prepare for your child’s future education. That’s why we have been helping Northeast Nebraska residents avoid these most common mistakes, plus many more, with a college planning consultant.

Not only can consultants help you avoid big mistakes, but they have a significant amount of expertise and experience for you to tap into. Being a small business owner has its own host of challenges, don’t let your child’s education be one of them!