College Financing: Do’s and Dont’s for Maximizing Student Financial Aid (Part I)

Here at JSA Consultants, we like to offer common-sense, cutting-edge information regarding topical issues of the day.  We blog a great deal about issues related to higher education, but we rarely talk about the ‘elephant in the room’–how most American families can PAY for college without depleting their retirement accounts or taking out additional mortgages.

We’ve asked Rick Shaffer, a nationally renowned expert regarding all things financial, to offer up some advice to help you navigate the financial aid waters.  In Part 1 of the post, Rick covers things you can and should do to optimize your financial aid package; in Part 2, he’ll talk about the things to avoid.  

  • No matter how much or how little money your family has or makes, apply for financial aid. There are at least two higher education loans–the Stafford Loan and the Plus Program that virtually every family qualifies for, regardless of their income level.
  • Apply for financial aid early, well before your high school senior is accepted into college.
  • Always include state universities in the mix of schools your senior applies to. State colleges and universities are almost always more affordable than private ones, even if your student lives out of state.

What if you student plans to study something not offered by your own state school?

Many states have programs that allow residents to attend university in another state, without having to pay out-of-state tuition. Check with your state, or with universities that you’re interested in, about available tuition exchange or reciprocity programs, and ask about how to sign up.

Some larger programs include:

Southern Region

The Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market provides tuition discounts for more than 1900 academic programs in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The Regional Contract Program enables students to pursue a professional health degree at out-of-state institutions, but pay in-state tuition at public institutions or reduced tuition at private institutions.

Midwestern Region
Students from Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin may be eligible for tuition reductions at certain Midwest public and private schools through the Midwest Student Exchange.

Western Region

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education offers the Western Undergraduate Exchange for students in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
The Western Regional Graduate Program enables residents to enroll in available graduate programs outside of their home state at resident tuition rates.
The Professional Student Exchange Program enables students majoring in the health care professions to enroll in selected out-of-state professional programs.

New England

The New England Regional Student Program enables New England residents to enroll at out-of-state New England public colleges and universities at a discount. Students are eligible when they enroll in an approved major that is not offered by the public colleges and universities in their home-state. More than 700 undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered. Participating states are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.


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