Evaluating college acceptances

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The period of time between college acceptances and deposit can be intense as students and parents weigh a number of factors.

How well does the college meet your child’s needs?
Most colleges host an accepted students day geared exclusively to incoming students. Even if your child has already visited the college, visiting again might be helpful. Your child will meet other accepted students and hear in more detail about the offerings related to academics, extracurricular activities, and student life. Some colleges even offer overnight stays in the dorms that can give your child a different perspective on life at that college.

If your child can’t visit, consider other ways to do additional research. Your child might email a particular department, professor, or student ambassador with specific questions. Also have your child browse online forums for student reviews of specific colleges.

Many college students end up changing their majors down the road. If your child decided to change majors, would he or she be able to find another one relatively easily? Or is the school very focused in one area such as — business, creative, or technology — where that would be difficult?

What is the cost to you and your child?
A college acceptance packet should include a detailed breakdown of any financial aid the college is offering, whether it’s loans, grants, scholarship (need-based or merit-based), or a work-study job. Make sure to read the find print carefully and understand exactly what the college is offering.

The goal is to compare your out-of-pocket cost at each college. To do this, look at the total cost of attendance for each school (this figure includes tuition and fees, room and board, plus a discretionary sum for books, personal expenses, and transportation).

Next, list and grants or scholarships the college is offering—this is “free” money. If the grant or scholarship is merit-based, find out whether it’s guaranteed for all four years and the requirements that must be met to qualify each year. If the grant or scholarship is need-based, find out whether you can expect a similar amount each year as long as your income and assets stay roughly the same (and you have the same number of children in college), and ask whether it increases each year to match any annual increases in tuition or room and board.

The different between a college’s total cost of attendance and any grant or scholarship aid is your out-of-pocket cost or “net price.” Compare your net price across all colleges.

Next, with your net price in hand, determine how much, if anything, you or your child will need to borrow. Multiply this figure by four to get an idea of what your total borrowing costs might be over four years. Then use a loan repayment calculator to show your child what the monthly lean repayment would be over a standard 10-year term at a fixed interest rate. Armed with this information, you’ll be in a better position to make a sound financial decision for your family.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016.

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