College Planning:  It's All About Tuition

BY: Brent Landrum

When it came to funding my secondary education, I learned a lot between the time I entered school right out of high school and when I returned after taking time off. 

As a young 18-year-old, the concept of money had not sunk in. My parents handled my finances, so understanding that college was expensive was a foreign world.  Making mistakes and understanding where I went wrong helped me have a better grasp on the financial aspect of college when I returned to complete my degree.  Here are some lessons I learned along the way:

1. Did tuition play into my choice of school? Yes and no.

As a high school junior and senior, it was all about getting into the best schools and attending the “coolest” one. I am sure many individuals facing this very scenario right now can relate to that mentality. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on me to make the best decision based on academics and finances. While my parents worried about the finances, I was concerned with picking the school that would fit into what I wanted to become. While those factors are important, so are finances. I picked the school I wanted to attend regardless of cost and continued to accept financial aid that was necessary in the short term, but didn’t make sense for me long term. Jump ahead a few years, and I was preparing to return to school. This time, tuition costs played a much bigger role in my decision. I chose a school that made sense with the life I had and my current financial state. Working full-time and attending an in-state school was an absolute must, so it was important to take advantage of the financial aid to pay for school while utilizing other funds to cover living expenses. I took the time to understand the financial aid award letter and calculate what my needs were. Already having a significant amount of student loan debt, it was imperative that I not accrue any more than I absolutely had to.

2. Expected Family Contribution was another aspect of my financial planning that was different each time I attended.

Out of high school, my EFC was much greater because my parents’ income adversely affected the amount and type of aid I could receive. When returning to school, the only income that mattered was my own. Looking back, I wish I would have understood this earlier so that I could understand how aid could help me and not add up to a pile of student debt. Not having my parents’ income factored into EFC did help in receiving aid that was not required to be paid back. This factor in financial aid is hard to get around for traditional students going directly from high school to college, but it is important to fully understand what it all means.

To sum this all up, here are some tips based on my experience:
  1. Understand the aid being offered.
  2. To the best of your ability, know your expenses at the start of each semester.
  3. Know how much you can contribute each semester.
  4. Think long term. Live like a student when you’re a student so you don’t have to live like a student for so long after graduation.

Watch for more information on planning for college expenses each month in this newsletter. If you would like help in planning appropriately for college tuition, contact or call (608) 798-2400.

Brent Landrum

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