How To Find Money For College - Seth Greene

How to Find Money for College, with Seth Greene

Paying for college is daunting, and can be a frustrating experience if you don’t know what you’re doing. The government may decide that on paper, you can afford plenty… though that’s rarely the case with ever-increasing education costs. If you’re wondering how to find money for college, look no further.

Today, Seth Greene is joining us to pull back the curtain on financial aid applications, so that you can qualify for as much as possible. If you want to get a jump on college aid planning, and learn the secrets for success, tune into our conversation below!

From Broadway to College Planning

Seth was on his way to college to become the next Broadway star when he got a frantic call from his father saying he had to come home. After some prodding, he discovered that the bill had made his father nervous. And this conversation continued each semester. 

By the time he graduated, he had the epiphany that he didn’t want to move to NYC only to struggle. Instead, he decided to help upcoming students save some of the heartbreak that he went through. 

As he entered this career, he realized that MOST parents and students aren’t prepared for the cost of college. They don’t realize the true expense; they don’t realize that the cost increases every year; and they rarely start soon enough. Seth’s role as a college financial aid planner isn’t to help parents save—it’s helping them work with what they have. 

College Financial Aid Leveraging

4:50 “College financial aid leveraging, according to Money Magazine, is the process by which the schools determine how little financial aid they can give a family and still get them to come.”

Colleges are a business, first and foremost. If it comes down to two students, and one needs $50,000 of aid to attend a $60,000 school, and the other only needs $5,000, which student will the school want more? 

5:45 “If your were an NFL team owner, negotiating with a quarterback, you would want to pay that quarterback as little as possible. But that quarterback has an agent.”

Students and families don’t have that agent advocating for them, so financial aid planners act as that negotiator for families. They help students get more government aid, so they’ll need less aid from the school, as well as helping students find the best schools for their needs and desires.

How to Find Money for College

Typical strategies for affording school include using what savings you’ve accumulated, going to a cheaper school, skipping school altogether, and/or taking out loans. Of course, many of those options can set you back farther in the long run. A school with a lower tuition may not actually be cheaper, and getting stuck with loans can hold graduates back.

These strategies, while common, often don’t meet the full cost requirements of college, or create more debt in the long run. The secret to paying for college isn’t about “making it work,” it’s about finding deals and getting more aid.

Student Positioning

There are two types of aid that colleges will provide to students. The first is merit-based aid, which schools award based on athletic or academic performance. Then, there is need-based aid. Aid planners bridge the gaps between the two—while merits are often up to the student and what schools want, a financial aid planner can help parents fill out aid applications to qualify for more needs-based aid. They can help parents and students avoid common pitfalls of applications that cause students to qualify for less aid. 

Needs-based aid IS quantifiable and therefore is the most important part of aid qualification. 

Another common misconception is that public colleges are cheaper. A school like Northwestern might be $60,000 and Kent State is only $25,000, but Northwestern is more affordable because they can meet 100% of your needs because of their endowment. 

To get the most aid, you’ll want to look for a school that has money, where the percentage of need-met is high, and then more specifically how much of that need-met is FREE money. 

The Importance of Starting Early

College planning usually requires some forethought, and this is true with financial aid qualification as well. For seniors, it may be too late to fill out applications and shop through school aid. Juniors, however, will probably still have time to get a good sense of how much schools are willing to give in aid, and determine affordable schools. 

Many families also make the mistake of searching for breadcrumbs—online scholarships. Less than 2.5% of all financial aid comes from these private scholarships. Too many students waste time scrolling through online databases and applying for $500 here and there, and are up against millions of other students. Instead, one of the best routes is to see if you can get more money from the schools themselves. 

Filling Aid Applications

One unfortunate downside to financial aid applications is that the Government (or private institution) decides what you can afford based on a sheet of paper. It’s rare, however, that number reflects the ACTUAL contribution a family can make. 

For example, a student Seth encountered had a family who was in the enviable position of having an $800,000 house fully paid off. To the government, that means $800,000 of home equity to pay for school… whether or not that’s actually true. (And whether the bank would let them access that equity.)

So applications require some shuffling. Are there ways you can move your money around into other assets so that it doesn’t have to be listed? Can you restructure the way you receive your income, or when?

Life insurance is a great example of an asset that doesn’t have to be reported on a FAFSA application.  

The catch is, you have to move this money at the right time. If you have an application due in two weeks, it doesn’t matter what you do with your money. It shows up on their last tax returns and asset statements. You must do this sort of planning a year, or even two, ahead. 

Dates to Know for Financial Aid 

Did you know that financial aid is on a first-come-first-serve basis? The earlier you fill out an application, the more you can qualify for, and the more time you have to find a school that can and will fill in the gaps. If one student files their application on the first eligible day, and someone else files two weeks later (with all else being identical), the first filer is going to qualify for more. 

The earliest you can submit a FAFSA form is October 1st of your child’s senior year of high school. The second most important day is May 1st, which is the day you’re supposed to decide on a school and submit a deposit. 

Many families struggle with this, because some schools don’t have decisions in yet, or students are wait-listed. However, if you don’t put the deposit in, you risk your child not having a slot at any school. Instead of that risk, Seth recommends to families that they put a deposit down somewhere by May 1st. If they end up getting into their dream school in the next few weeks, you’ll know if it’s worth walking away from the $500 deposit. If they don’t get in, the child will still be able to go somewhere. 

Your Child’s Path

Ultimately, your child’s trajectory is up to them. Their lives are going to change and evolve, and you’ll be there to support them in whatever way they need. College planning and saving will open up their world and give them options.

If you’re interested in Seth’s course, and learning about some of the recent changes to financial aid, go to How to Find Money for College. If you include that The Money Advantage referred you when you sign up, you’ll get the course for FREE.

About Seth Greene

Seth Greene has been a college financial aid planner for over 22 years specializing in solving the late-stage college planning problem for families. He is based in Williamsville, NY and is the founder of HowToFindMoneyForCollege.com

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Rachel Marshall

Rachel Marshall is the Co-Founder and Chief Financial Educator of The Money Advantage and President of Marshall's Insurance and Financial Services. She is known for making money simple, fun, and doable. Rachel has built a team of licensed professionals (investment advisors, insurance agents, attorneys, tax strategists) to help her clients create time and money freedom with cash flow strategies, Privatized Banking, and alternative investments. Rachel is the co-host of The Money Advantage podcast, the popular business and personal finance show. She teaches how to keep more of the money you make, protect it, and turn it into cash-flowing assets.
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