Focus on Finances

There’s something about this time of year when parents now seem to have a hyper-focus on “how are we going to pay for college?” The reality of next year’s college bill strikes home. There is now a scrambling to fill out financial aid forms and additional pressure on students to find as many scholarships as possible.

Is this sounding a little familiar?

This is true of most families with high school seniors, but it is also true of families with juniors who are putting their college lists together and trying to determine if they’ll qualify for need-based aid, which schools don’t award any merit aid, etc.

I don’t normally endorse books, but I can strongly recommend you consider purchasing “Paying for College: 2020 Edition” from Princeton Review. It is the only annually updated financial aid guide proving detailed, line-by-line strategies for completing important aid application forms to one’s best advantage. Princeton Review has been publishing the guide annually since 1992.  Its earlier title was “Paying for College Without Going Broke.” Kalman Chany, the book’s author is one of the country’s most recognized experts on college funding. The book includes general advice on completing institutional aid forms, planning long-term for college costs, and selecting the best education loans.

The new 2020 edition offers worksheets to calculate the critically important “Expected Family Contribution” or the EFC. These worksheets will help families get an advanced estimate of what the colleges and the US Government, are likely to expect you to pay. Additionally, Chany offers specific, legal ways to lower that figure and boost aid eligibility. For the more financially sticky matters of separated or divorced parents, custodial parents, parents unwilling to complete the forms, etc., there is great information as well.

Appealing Aid Offers

Families often ask how to respond if the initial financial aid offer isn’t sufficient. There will soon be cocktail party chatter of negotiating with the Financial Aid Offices. Yes, you can appeal, but please review a few simple guidelines:

  • Don’t get greedy.
  • Make sure you negotiate while you still have leverage. You’ve lost the battle if you’ve already accepted the offer.
  • Make an objective assessment of what you can realistically afford and compare the different offers. If they vary greatly and your child prefers the school with the less amount of aid (that’s usually the case!), then it’s worthwhile to contact the Financial Aid Office and review your case.
  • Be prepared with all your forms handy and have a number that you’re prepared to pay.
  • Be nice. Tone really counts. If you approach this as a confrontation, you’re likely to get shut down quickly.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;