Happy October 1st! The FAFSA opens today so I thought it would be an appropriate time to talk about college costs. And I received a call over the weekend that provides a perfect introduction to what families need to think about as their children build college lists and where finances intersect with that process.

This past Saturday night I got a call from a mother with twin daughters that are seniors. Most people come to me by word of mouth so I asked her where she got my name and I was surprised to learn that she found me on google. We started to talk and a picture began to emerge that had red flags all over it.

This woman was a single mother in New York City. She worked two jobs and she did not have any support from the girls’ father. She started to talk to me about their list and that is where I got concerned. Her daughters were good students that were looking at schools all over the country, from public colleges in the University of California system, to small private schools, and everything in between, with no consideration to cost.

I asked her some general questions about what her tax return looked like and I started to walk her through some of the specifics of financial aid formulas. When a parent like this is looking at schools, it is critical to seek out colleges that are going to meet 100% of demonstrated need. This is complicated for this woman because those schools typically will require not only the FAFSA but the CSS/Profile. And the Profile schools will require BOTH parents to fill out the paperwork. This becomes a problem when the other parent is unwilling to cooperate or brings assets to the table that will eliminate aid but does not want to contribute to their child’s education. There are a small slice of schools that meet 100% of demonstrated need with just the Profile filled out by the custodial parent. These are colleges that would offer incredible aid to her bright daughters. The challenge is finding those schools and helping the girls (who have California dreams) discover some options within this niche, that could be good fits for them.

I was traveling when I took her call, and about to go out of cell range, so we made a date to speak during the week, between her two jobs, to help her sort this out and get her daughters pointed in the right direction. She asked me what I owed her for the call and I told her nothing and that our call on Tuesday would be of no charge. College funding is complicated and this hardworking mother needs help.

Every family has a unique financial situation that impacts how colleges will evaluate their ability to pay. Whether you are a straight W2 earner, own an LLC, have real estate with significant equity in your home or own a share of your grandmother’s lake house, or any other possible financial scenario, you should use the calculator below to determine your Expected Family Contribution and run net price calculators at any school your child is considering.

I suggest that families introduce college cost to the conversation early and often!


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