Mythbusters: Revealing the Truth Behind Paying for College
Young people and their parents are often intimidated by the finances of attending college. Our Adventist colleges and universities have an abundance of resources, experts, and benefits that make the process (and payments) much more manageable — but sometimes it's hard to know where to begin. Financial aid expert Jay Miller, new student financial counselor from Pacific Union College, debunks myths to help clear up a few mysteries.
Myth #1: Adventist higher education is not affordable
Many people are surprised at how little it actually costs to attend after all financial aid is considered. Most people look at the top line — the big number — and not the bottom line after financial aid is subtracted. A mother recently told me she paid more to send her sons to a state college than I was quoting for her nephew to attend an Adventist college, and she was going to spread the word! Compared to most other private institutions, Adventist colleges are significantly lower in price even before financial aid is considered. So don't assume you can't afford it - talk to your student's financial aid counselor to get the facts.
Myth #2: Students should never take out loans for college
While some respected financial advisors counsel against any debt for education, you have to consider the long run. A reasonable amount of debt may make sense if you consider your student's education to be an investment. Anti-education-debt advisors don't take the same approach to home ownership — they suggest a reasonable 15-year loan could be good. Most student loans can be paid off in 10 years or less, and that investment continues to pay dividends through an entire career. Once you've gathered as much free money as you can, a modest educational loan may be worth considering.
Myth #3: Adventist higher education isn't worth the sacrifice
There are many levels of value. From a selfish perspective, it's an investment in the student; and statistics show that employees with college degrees earn significantly more than high school graduates. But more importantly, if we consider how to make a difference for others, equipping ourselves to be better servants of the gospel to a hurting world makes a ton of sense. Yes, your student might be able to get a cheaper degree from a local school, but what would they be missing? Professors who care and have time to listen to questions, other Christian students who will help inspire big ideas, and an atmosphere where generosity and faith are important parts of everyday life.
Myth #4: If parents don't help, the student should be considered independent
Unless a student is 24, married, has dependents, is an orphan or a vet, or a few other possibilities, they are considered a dependent and will have to list their parents' income on the FAFSA. This is true even if the parents don't give the student a dime. If parents refuse to sign, the student can get some federal loans but no other grants or need-based aid will be available.
Myth #5: You have to wait until your taxes are complete to fill out the FAFSA
Many well-meaning advisors think that the IRS is just waiting to catch you filling out a FASFA too early. But nothing could be further from the truth. The FAFSA gives three choices for whether parents completed tax returns: Yes they did, No they are not going to, and Not yet (will file, not completed). This means you can fill out an online FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov on January 1! Download and print the worksheet ahead of time to collect all the appropriate numbers and make sure you have applied for student and parent PINs in November or December (and keep them safe for future years). The government will understand that your income numbers entered are estimates and will not penalize you - they encourage you to get the FAFSA done early. Later on, your student's financial aid counselor can help you correct or update numbers if necessary.
There is no excuse for waiting to do the FAFSA!
Myth #6 There aren't any scholarships out there for my student
You may have heard about a U.S. student who applied for 1,000 scholarships and received 30 for a total of $38,000. There's a lot of money to be paid for writing essays! Many local businesspeople want to help students but don't have the resources to advertise their scholarships. Every year millions in available scholarships are unawarded for lack of applicants.
Nobody has to give up a week's worth of sleep to apply, either. Set aside a few hours each week and you will be surprised at how many applications can be sent. Have your student talk to local service clubs, chambers of commerce, foundations, your family insurance agent and other local business professionals. Ask them, "Can you help me?" and "Who do you know that has scholarships?" Also look for national scholarships at websites such as www.schoolsoup.com, and focus on scholarships with a narrow focus since there will be less competition for these dollars.
Myth #7 I'm not going to get anything from filling out the FAFSA
There are two general types of aid: merit money (from various sources), and need-based money (from the FAFSA). Anyone can apply for merit money based on GPA, test scores, leadership activities, etc. But many families assume they make too much money to get government grants (free money). What they don't know is that Adventist colleges and universities offer need-based grants to many students when their income is too high to qualify for free government money — but students miss out on this if they don't fill out the FAFSA! In addition, things can change. If the family's income decreases, we can adjust their FAFSA and help them qualify for more aid.
Finally, student loans from the government and schools are only available to students who fill out a FAFSA. (And high school seniors and community college transfer students up to age 28 in California need to beat the March 2 deadline to be considered for a Cal Grant). So get your FAFSA done as soon after January 1 as possible, regardless of family income!
Five Things to Do Now
Focusing on these five things right now will help make the upcoming financial aid process pain-free
- Fill out your FAFSA (after January 1)*
- Get good grades
- Be active in leadership
- Look for scholarships online and in your community
- Work with a college Financial Counselor
*California residents must also turn in the GPA verification form by March 2 for Cal Grant.