Today I’m sharing an email from a mom from New Mexico, who is understandably stressed about the college bill she is gearing up to face for the third of her four children. I’ve got my own thoughts, but I’d love to hear what advice you might give this family.
A Mom’s Question
Here is the mother’s note:
Do colleges take into consideration the fact that the parents of the student are paying back student loans borrowed for their own and their other children’s educations when determining financial aid?
We have four children, ages ranging from 27 to 15. Our 27 year-old graduated, our 22 year old is finishing this year. Our third child is our most academically hard-working one, and she is on track to graduate next year with a 3.8 GPA, having taken all Honors and AP courses available. She has yet to take the ACT, but an estimated test given her by her high school resulted in a 30.
Daughter’s College Aspirations
She wants to go to school out of state, at a private or public school in Colorado, Arizona or California rather than stay here at our local university in New Mexico. We support her, as we think she has worked hard, is more serious about college, and would benefit from being in an enhanced academic environment.
My husband and I chipped away at our degrees here at our local university, finally graduating from college later in life by using student loans. When I became a nurse, our income increased enough that we no longer qualified for aid for our second son who had maxed out his Stafford eligibility at 23K, so we borrowed PLUS loan money so he could complete his last year.
Over the past three years, our income jumped from approximately 70K per year to 140K, which I am assuming greatly impacts how much need based aid our daughter will be eligible for. We pay approximately $1,600 a month in total student loan payments.
We still help both boys with certain expenses, and we also have our youngest to think about. Do you have any thoughts or advice for a family such as ours?
Here are My Thoughts…..
1. I sympathize with this mom. Paying $1,600 a month for college loans would be a huge burden for just about any family. Unfortunately, parents who space their kids further apart typically have to shoulder more college costs. Schools routinely give breaks to families that have two or more students in college simultaneously.
2. Most schools only use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and this form does not ask about college loans that parents have already incurred. You could, however, request a professional judgment from a school’s financial aid office. You could also contact the school before your child applies to ask how this college debt would be treated — if at all.
3. The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, which about 250 schools (almost all private) use does inquire about current loans. The PROFILE asks parents if they are paying back college loans and what the amount is. PROFILE institutions will treat this information differently, but some schools will subtract the yearly loan repayment from parents’ income. This would increase your eligibility for financial aid. Here is a list of the PROFILE colleges and universities.
Just like the FAFSA schools, you should contact schools ahead of time to see whether they give parents a break who are in your situation. You can also request a professional judgment if a financial aid package isn’t enough.
4. I must confess that I cringed when I read that your daughter was interested in public schools in California, Colorado and Arizona. State universities are under tremendous pressure financially as states continue to ratchet down their support.
In California and elsewhere, residents and nonresidents are paying more for less. Students at public universities in California, as well as other states, are cutting back on course offerings, increasing class sizes, reducing the number of academic advisers. They are also cutting back on assignments that actually require deep thinking, such as written reports, because there are fewer teaching assistants to grade them. It’s also more challenging to graduate in four years!
Under the circumstance, I find it remarkable that nonresidents still dream of attending schools like UC Berkeley and UCLA. If your daughter gets into any University of California campus, it will cost you more than $54,000 for the first year and the price will almost certainly rise each year thereafter. The UCs don’t give out any merit scholarships to nonresidents so you would be facing that $54,000 tab.
The University of Colorado at $48,000 isn’t much cheaper. The vast majority of nonresidents at CU do not receive merit scholarships. The top nonresident prize is a $55,000 scholarship spread over four years. And for nonresidents, the University of Arizona is $41,000 and Arizona State is $38,000.
5. If your daughter wants to attend a Western state university cheaply, she should look for schools that aren’t on a lot of students radar. One that I’d suggest she
check out is Western Washington University in Bellingham. The school belongs to the Western Undergraduate Exchange program that many western states participate in including New Mexico and Washington. This school will be far less expensive. From what I hear, it’s got a wonderful honors college.
6. Don’t let your daughter apply to any school without using a net price calculator in advance. You can evaluate state and private institutions with these calculators.
7. Ultimately, you might decide that the most affordable school is in New Mexico. You can obtain a great education anywhere and you can boost your chances by getting admitted into an honors college. Here is a link to the University of New Mexico’s honors program.
8. A bachelor’s degree is a bachelor’s degree. I wouldn’t overextend myself any further on college debt. I also would not suggest that your daughter take out more than the maximum Stafford Loan. It’s just not worth it!
What Do You Think?
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of second edition of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.