The process of applying and paying for college can be overwhelming, to say the least.
When is my financial aid application due? What are my chances of getting into the school of my choice? How much will it cost me? Are there scholarships available for agriculture majors living in Maine?
These are important questions, and you might think you need to scour the Internet for hours to find your answers. That’s one option and, in fact, it could be very informative. But if you don’t have that kind of time, we have an alternative that can help you get started on your college quest and eliminate a lot of the heavy lifting.
BlackRock has launched a college planning tool that brings much of what you need to one place. The tool can do things like estimate financial aid eligibility, price out specific schools, determine your child’s likelihood of acceptance to those schools and identify even the most obscure scholarship opportunities.
My intentions in blogging on this new resource may seem self-serving. That may be so, not because I am employed by BlackRock, but because I am a dad … and because my oldest child is a high school freshman. Our college preparations are kicking into high gear, and I happen to think this tool is a phenomenal resource. The fact that I work for a company that is so committed to helping families understand the full scope of the decisions they are making about this major financial obligation is icing on the cake.
Believe me when I say this tool is worth exploring. It will cost you nothing but a little of your time, and I think you’ll find it time well spent. Here are just a few things you can do:
- Customize. Create a profile for each of your children, including their current grade level in school. The planner will walk you through, step-by-step, what you should be considering and doing right now in the college planning process.
- Focus your search. The tool has data on 7,928 post-secondary schools in the U.S. Select from various criteria, such as academic interest, distance from home, setting, etc. to refine your college list to something more manageable. For each school, you can see acceptance rate, average ACT or SAT scores, estimated total cost, school size/population and more. Add your top picks to your child’s profile.
- Find and compare college pricing. Prospective students can get a sense of how much the average freshman in their same income situation pays for a given school. You’ll see a “total cost” estimate — meaning tuition, room & board, books & supplies and other expenses (travel, spending money, etc.). While you can get a similar snapshot using the online net price calculator that each college provides (and you should definitely check these out), this tool allows you to visit one place and compare results side by side.
- Assess admissibility and affordability. Not only can the tool help you determine the affordability of your chosen set of schools, but it can also help you assess your child’s admissibility based on his/her academic record as you reported it. Ultimately, you want to balance affordability and admissibility considerations so that you’re not spending too much time on schools that may be either too pricey for your situation or where your child may have a low probability of acceptance. This screen shot gives you a sense of what you’ll see:
- Size up your savings. See how your savings improves your affordability scores. Plug in your savings and generate an estimate of how that will impact your out-of-pocket cost for a given school.
- Understand financial aid. Calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is a general assessment of what you can afford to pay and the figure colleges use to determine financial aid.
- Find free money. Search an expansive database of scholarships, grants and other merit aid opportunities. You’ll be able to narrow your search by region, field of interest, dollar amount offered and other criteria and add these to your child’s profile for tracking. In many cases, you can see how many students applied for the scholarship last year and how many were awarded.
The tool is also chock full of educational resources: links to test prep and aptitude/skills tests, access to the federal financial aid paperwork and help with college essays, among other things.
If I sound excited, it’s because I am. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to visit the tool and give yourself a leg up on planning for college. I also invite you to check out my related blog posts: Decoding the Real Cost of College, Getting Schooled: Six Steps to Better College Prep and 529s: 10 Little-Known Facts About the Popular College Savings Plan.
Rob Kron, Managing Director, is the head of Investment and Retirement Education for BlackRock’s U.S. Wealth Advisory group. He provides practical information on topics that are important to every saver and investor of every age. You can find more from Rob here.
This material is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. The information contained herein is based on current tax laws, which may change in the future. BlackRock cannot be held responsible for any direct or incidental loss resulting from applying any of the information provided in this publication or from any other source mentioned. The information provided in these materials does not constitute any legal, tax or accounting advice. Please consult with a qualified professional for this type of advice.
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