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Affording College

The world of financial aid can be overwhelming, not just from a personal investment perspective, but from the amount of knowledge required to get up to speed, even on the basics.  Here are a few points to keep in mind as you consider your specific circumstances:

Parents of 9th and 10th Graders:  The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) uses a 2-year look-back period in determining your financial “responsibility” in paying for college.  I use the term “responsibility” loosely because the government’s and colleges’ ideas of your ability to afford college is usually vastly different than the reality of your situation.  That said, when you complete the FAFSA in your student’s 12th grade year, the information required uses your reported income and assets from your IRS filing the prior-prior year, aka, your student’s 10th grade year.

Protected Assets:  Your primary residence, ownership in a business, and your retirement accounts are not calculated into your assets.

Divorced Parents: Is the non-custodial parent required to help pay for college?  The Federal government does not consider the income and assets of the non-custodial parent in determining a student’s financial need. However, it does consider child support received by the custodial parent. Many private colleges do consider the non-custodial parent as a potential source of support, and require a supplemental financial aid form from the non-custodial parent. This affects the awarding of the school’s own aid, but not Federal and state aid.

Government Loans:  In 12th grade, after you have completed the FAFSA on behalf of your student, you will receive an “award package” from the college that will consist of scholarships, grants, work study, and loans.  The government may offer your student Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans, up to $5500 the first year of college, $6500 the second year, and $7500 for the third and fourth years.  Unsubsidized loans are similar to bank loans in their repayment terms, but subsidized loans have the feature that the clock does not start ticking on interest until 6 months after the student graduates or leaves college.

What is the best way to afford college?  Let’s pose another question:  Is a student whose parents fully fund their college education but who then changes career direction 3 years later better off financially than a student who takes on college debt, and leverages hidden resources like co-ops and then hits the ground running with a salary $20000 higher than the student in the first scenario?  The nature of shifting situations is what can make all of college planning so important and necessary. The best way to “afford” college is to go to a college that’s right for you in the first place, offers strong institutional merit scholarships, and has a good understanding of potential majors that align with your interests and strengths.   Maximize AP and College in High School courses, do co-ops in college, set yourself apart, and in the end, your starting salary may be more than $20000 a year higher than the student sitting next to you at graduation. 

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Adding Pre-college Summer Camps to Next Year’s Vacation Can Save You Thousands on College

The school bell just signaled the start of another school and it’s time to make plans for next summer already?  Why? Whether your student is jockeying for a place at an Ivy League school or simply wants to learn more about a specialized area or major, Pre-college camps can pay off in a big way.  With nearly 70% of students changing majors after their first year, helping a student to solidify a major before they go to college can eliminate the fifth year of college that often comes with a change of major or transferring to a different college altogether because the original one doesn’t offer what your student is now gravitating towards.  These decisions can add another $40000 or more to the total cost of college, plus the additional delay of a year entering the work force.

Pre-college summer camps are not free, and often can cost up to $1500 a week.  Yet, in context, the average college class costs over $3000. To come armed with the experience that resonates a student’s choice of major can be a huge advantage.  

One mother sent her student to a week-long pharmacy camp at a private college in Ohio.  The student came back reluctant to announce she did not want to pursue this or any other health career.  The mother said, “This was the best money I never spent on college,” because the daughter avoided a career path that would have come with a slate of intense prerequisites like Organic Chemistry, which would have derailed her from her eventual shift toward computer science, the field she since pursued and is thoroughly enjoying as a career.

How do I learn about pre-college Programs?

My 4-Year Plan maintains up-to-date opportunities offered at colleges around the world, and some applications have February deadlines, particularly for competitive STEM-related camps at schools like Stanford.  However, even colleges like CMU are seeking to draw underrepresented students to summer camps that open their doors to a variety of high school students. 

In our own backyard, the Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week ( offers week-long business leadership camps with fantastic scholarships, so students simply pay for a week of housing and food at less than $300.  Several students from Hampton have attended in recent years and have enjoyed recognition as “CEO” for a week, discovering more about the world of business, from marketing to finance and data analytics, and all with the coaching of an expert in their field, who donates a week of time to the organization.  Not only does PFEW look great on a student’s Common App, but it also goes a long way in giving them exposure to team and leadership experiences, which can parlay into any major. 

Miami University (commonly known as Miami of Ohio) offers a large slate of summer camps from Game of Clones (Genetics) to Law and Order (Government).  For students seeking admission to ivies and other elite colleges, being selected for pre-college camps often serves as a pathway to begin taking those steps.  For language buffs, the National Security Language Institute provides all-expense, global training to at least eight different countries, all for high school students.