Over the weekend, I volunteered to help work our move-in weekend at the college I work at. Roughly 6,000 freshman and their entourage (parents, girlfriends/boyfriends, and stuff) assaulted our campus in a barrage of U-haul trucks, lime green dorm furniture, and emotions.
Our office was open to speak with parents and students about their financial aid and paying their student bill. It always amazes me how many people simply have no clue what their tuition bill is, or whether or not they received financial aid at move-in weekend.
Parents are essentially saying to their kids that “it’s ok to come to school without having your bill paid. We’ll just assume that the college can float you a loan and give you a break until we can find a means to pay.” We certainly do have a heart, and we absolutely love our students, but we also have to keep the lights on and pay your professors!
So how can you avoid being one of those parents or students who shows up on move-in weekend with a wide eyed look of terror as you walk into the student billing and financial aid office?
Start the Process Early
If you are a parent who just had a newborn then it is not too early to start the process. I know, scary right! However, just like time is on your side as you invest for your retirement, you can harness the power of compound interest and tax advantages by investing in a 529 College Savings Plan for your child as soon as they are born.
As your child grows, you will continue to make contributions to this 529 plan, and you will have a considerable sum of money by the time they are ready to pack up and head off to college.
You should also begin the process of financial aid in your junior year of high school. This will give you ample opportunity to plan, schedule, and complete scholarship applications. You will also need to get together your list of references, work experience, and extracurricular activities.
You will need to submit your FAFSA as soon after January 1st of your senior year of high school as possible. You will need your previous year tax documents to complete the FAFSA, but you can actually submit your FAFSA using estimated information, then go back in and correct later. This ensures that your FAFSA arrives at your school as early as possible.
Know the Rules
Understanding how your college’s billing system works will save you considerable hassle in the long run. Many college’s have online bill payment options, while some unfortunately do not. Others may give you credit for your financial aid before it is finalized, others may not. Many college’s have strict payment deadlines, while others are more relaxed.
All of these points are key pieces of information that you will need to verify s you can avoid stress on move-in weekend.
Many parents also do not realize that there is a general disconnect between the billing office and the financial aid office. This might surprise you, but these offices perform distinctly different functions. it is best to know which office to contact when you have a question.
Finally, you will need to understand FERPA. FERPA is the education version of HIPPA. The law states that a school cannot give out personal information on a student (yes that includes information about their bill, even though you as a parent are likely the one paying it!) without their express consent.
Please do not get upset when you call your school to ask about their bill and are told that they cannot give you any information without your student signing a release form. It is a federal law, and it cannot be violated.
Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Relax.
You have done it. You have enrolled your child in their first day of college. the past 18 years of parenting are over, and your child has made it into college.
You should be proud of yourself!
Now, it is time to cut the strings and let them find themselves. Your child is now an adult, their college will consider them so, and they are expected to make difficult decisions on their own.
You have done your part, now you get to sit back and coach from the sidelines.