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Answers to Your College Questions

Frank Palmasani

Frank Palmasani

Frank Palmasani is a Chicago area high school guidance counselor and former college director of admissions, and creator of Financial Fit. In 1985, Palmasani began delivering seminars on the college financial aid and planning process, and estimates that he has reached more than 200,000 people through his talks. He is a member of NACAC, IACAC, and the College Board. Palmasani has been featured in the Boston Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Yahoo! Finance, WGN-TV, WTTW-TV, CBS’s Monsters and Money in the Morning, and is the author of the forthcoming book Right College, Right Price (Sourcebooks, January 2013).


Palmasani is the founder of Financial Fit, which you can find in the College Countdown bookstore.

Posted by on in Paying for College

financial-questions-students-should-askSummer is a great time to head to college campuses for a visit. Not only can you learn more about schools and get a feel for whether they’re a good fit for you, but campus visits are also an ideal opportunity to speak to admissions representatives and financial aid officers one-on-one about college costs and financial aid. When speaking to these college representatives, consider asking these ten questions to ensure you find the school that fits you best in every way, including financially.

1. What is the current cost of tuition and fees? Room and board?

Some colleges know what their listed charges (sticker prices) will be years in advance. Most don’t, but obtaining the current sticker price will at minimum provide you with an initial starting point for determining the affordability of the institution. If you intend to live in university housing for more than one year, be sure to ask how room and board plans typically fluctuate from year to year. Are all room prices the same? How about meal plan prices?

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Posted by on in Paying for College

Now that we are well into spring, it is that time of the year for seniors and their parents to receive college financial aid award letters. Of course, with the costs of colleges as they are, these official award letters offer critical pieces of information to help families determine their final college choice—a decision that must be made by May 1st.

Follow these five steps as you read your college award letter (or look to the sample award letter provided below) to ensure that you understand the exact amount each college will cost.

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Posted by on in Paying for College

After filing your FAFSA (your Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you will receive a very important number in your Student Aid Report—your EFC. The EFC, or your Expected Family Contribution number, is critically important to determining the cost of your college options.   But many families don’t understand what this number actually means and how colleges use it.

So what is the EFC? Look to these four commonly asked questions to fully understand your EFC and how it will affect your college costs.

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Posted by on in Paying for College

As parents of high school seniors begin to file the FAFSA, some are having difficulty completing the form accurately. To ensure that your FAFSA is completed correctly, be sure to avoid these seven commonly made errors:

  1. Listing non-working income (i.e., social security income) in the untaxed income category. If your non-working income already shows up as a part of adjusted gross income, you do not need to list it twice. Untaxed income and adjusted gross income are added together to arrive at total income. If you list non-working income in the untaxed income category, you will increase your EFC (expected family contribution) number.
  2. Listing the equity of your home or the value of retirement plans as an asset. These items should not be included.
  3. Listing student’s college savings as a student asset as opposed to a parent asset. In the 2013–2014 FAFSA, college savings accounts should be listed as a parent asset. This will reduce the EFC number.
  4. Not including all members of a household. When listing members in a household, anyone who lives in the parents’ household and receives more than 50 percent support from them, such as grandparents or older siblings, should be included.
  5. Listing parent income in the student income line item.
  6. For divorced families, including a parent who should not be included. Only the parent and/or stepparent with whom the student resides most of the time (i.e., for more than six out of the last twelve months) should be included. Divorce decrees or tax return exemptions are not involved in this decision.
  7. Waiting to complete the FAFSA until tax returns are filed in April. If you plan to file your taxes after mid-February, it is wiser to complete the FAFSA now using estimated information and then update your Student Aid Report (SAR) after you’ve completed your taxes.

Get more help with the FAFSA and other financial aid documents, plus understanding loan options, financial aid award letters, and more with the Financial Fit® program.

Tagged in: FAFSA Financial Aid
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Posted by on in Paying for College

price vs. quality for college educationMany parents have asked this same question during my live seminars on finding affordable colleges. It is a common misconception that the sticker price of a college is directly related to the quality of the education your child will receive. This is understandable considering how goods and services are given value in our country—we often perceive items or services that are more costly as being somehow of higher quality. Obviously, in some cases, such as cars or homes, this might be true. The real question, though, is does that perspective hold true when examining colleges?

In our country, the most prestigious colleges—the Ivy League schools, for example—are typically the ones that have the highest sticker price. However, the sticker price, or the listed cost, of a college is not what each family pays. The amount each individual family actually pays is based on net price. Net price is calculated by subtracting grants and scholarships that the student has been awarded from the original sticker price. This is what makes college selection so different from many other purchases. The net prices for schools with the highest sticker prices can often be lower than those at many other colleges. That is just one reason why you can’t correlate price with the quality of a college.

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