College bound in the next year or two… Plan early!  There are more college funds for families who start early with a plan vs. those who wait or miss out on important deadlines.

Apply for Financial aid – no matter what you might think you are going to qualify for. Many schools offer a significant discount off the advertised cost of attendance for families that do not qualify for need based financial aid.

Knowing the average discount received by families that are not candidates for need based financial aid at the schools you are applying to can be very helpful for determining college affordability, and college funding strategies. If your student is in the top 20% of the incoming applicant pool, they may receive a more generous merit award which would further reduce your college costs. Work with your college advisor to start with the right college list, where your student will be competitive.

When you file for financial aid, your first step will be to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  This will be in October of your child’s High school Senior year, and the financials you will be using are your tax returns from the prior, prior year (Spring of Sophomore Year Tax Filing) and your current assets (home value, investment accounts, etc).  If you plan on shifting financial assets around to increase your eligibility for need based aid, you will need to do so before January of your child’s sophomore year of high school!

Here are a few things you’ll need to know once you get started:

  • EFC (Expected Family Contribution) – This is what colleges think you can afford. Each school you apply to will calculate an EFC for you based on the information you provided in The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The EFC will be different from school to school based whether they use the Federal Formula (FM) or an Institutional Formula (IM).  Your EFC is rarely an accurate reflection of what you can afford to pay, rather it is a starting point from which the school will work.


  • What can you afford? We would give our kids the world if we could. Maybe that is why being honest about what we can afford to pay is one of the hardest aspects of college planning. Basically, don’t let your kid test drive a Ferrari if you aren’t able to pay for it when they love it. If you are already putting aside money for college every month then that number is likely a good place to start.  If you are not already saving, then the impact of the added expense of paying tuition on cash flow to other priorities of should be seriously looked at.


  • What are Grants, Scholarships, and Work Study? Grants are free money, typically awarded automatically (no separate applications) based on either financial need or Merit.  Scholarship will require an application, portfolio submission or tryout.  These likely have deadlines that are separate from the admission and financial aid process.  It is important to seek these out during the spring and summer of junior year to avoid missing out.  Work Study will often be included in a financial aid award; and while it is granted based on need it is important to understand that these funds must be earned during the year by the student… unless they are going to go back to the school to pay for tuition it really isn’t being used to offset the cost of attending.


  • Mind the Gap (Cost of Attendance vs Total Aid)
    If you get a full ride… well congratulations! Most wont.   Which will leave some difference between the Cost of Attendance (COA) and the Financial Aid Awarded (Grants & Scholarships) your student has received.   This gap can be bridged by student loans. Federal Stafford Loans to students are capped at $5,500 per year (2021), anything in excess of this will be a Parent Loan.  When you are taking out loans to pay for college, be sure to consider earning potential after graduation.   You can find data for median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid at schools at


No matter if this the year for SAT/ACT, College Visits, or Applications, I wish you good luck in the games ahead!


High school sophomore High school junior

High school senior

September – November Clean you your balance sheet… Reposition assets before Dec 31 Begin researching colleges Retake SAT/ACT
Register for CSS Profile
(if required)
Take PSAT Oct 1: File FAFSA
Apply early decision/ early action
December – February Begin researching scholarships Consider early acceptances
Submit regular decision applications
Visit colleges
March – May Consider regular decision acceptances
Take AP Exams May 1: Make final decision/
pay deposit
Take SAT/ACT Take AP Exams
Finalize college List Finalize loan applications
(if needed)
June – August Pay for Fall semester
Aug 1: Common App
released online
Begin applying for scholarships College begins



College Score Card:

South Carolina’s 529 college Savings Plan:

Saving for

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®):

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