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Four Ways to Navigate the Financial Hurdles of College Planning

Guest Essay – December, 2019

By Phil James
Co-founder & Chief College Officer, SimpliCollege

Today, college is one of the three biggest expenses families will have, in addition to buying a home and saving for retirement. In fact, 42 million families across the United States currently share $1.6 trillion in student loan debt—a number that is only projected to keep on growing. So, how can your family get ahead of student debt?

1. Have a Strategic Plan

It’s important to build yourself a roadmap BEFORE going to look at colleges or universities. First, figure out how much money you have to spend, to make sure you’re only visiting colleges that you can afford. This will help your student avoid getting emotionally attached to a campus or program that falls outside of your budget, thereby lowering the amount of loans you’ll need to take out. Then, make sure your student is earning the grades and test scores required by his or her chosen institutions (don’t forget the extra-curricular activities—colleges today are increasingly looking for those with leadership skills).

2. Look for Scholarships

Everyone hopes their student will earn a scholarship from his or her university of choice, but rarely do these scholarships yield the return you might think. The average athletic scholarship, for example, is only $3,000 per year—not much when you consider the fact that the annual cost of attending a four-year private institution in the United States is now more than $48,500.

Instead, consider looking for scholarships elsewhere. There are currently $46 billion in scholarships available for perspective college students, and many of them go unused. Taking the time to search and apply for these scholarships can very much help ease the financial burden that college places on a household.

Depending on whether or not you meet the income requirements, it may also benefit your family to apply for a Pell grant or an SEOG grant.

3. Negotiate

Fifty percent of 4-year colleges did not meet their freshman enrollment numbers in 2019—this means that half the colleges out there need students and are more likely to offer prospective students more money to attend. Many families don’t know that when it comes to applying for college, there are several tactics they can use to negotiate more affordable options with college admissions, and to appeal for lower tuition costs (just like when you go to buy a car). This is something we specifically focus on for our clients at—though it can be more difficult to negotiate with state schools and community colleges, since their tuition costs are lower to begin with, or with selective colleges (such as Ivy League schools), since most only provide need-based aid.

4. Find the Loan That’s Right for You

Colleges often encourage applicants to apply for Direct Loans, since they benefit from collecting an administration fee on this type of loan. However—there are plenty of other resources out there to help you find the right loan for your child’s education. Companies like Lendkey, for example, can help match your family with community banks and credit unions to find the more accessible and low-cost borrowing options.

Too many families have been forced to navigate the financial hurdles of higher education without much help. Utilizing resources available from college experts like can bring clarity to the confusion around college planning and help your family develop a roadmap that will help you reach your individual goals—without spending thousands of dollars on hiring an Independent Educational Consultant.

Phil James is Co-founder & Chief College Officer at SimpliCollege, an online college consulting company based in Rochester. SimpliCollege is the only online resource that has all the tools families need to successfully navigate the college journey.