Calculating Your College Budget: Real-Time Answers

This article is slated to be updated with the latest FAFSA, Scholarship, and Financial Information. For more updated information, please refer to our 2023 and 2024 articles.

Calculating your college budget can be a mysterious process.  Families have a difficult time predicting the awards.  In reality, there are still the real-time answers that only the college can answer for you to help prepare for how to make a budget plan for college students.

Stephanie Kennedy was showing me the proprietary software used by her academic team to help families with the college search process.  I was quite impressed with how the software enables her team to quickly optimize a student’s opportunity for earning merit scholarships.

Indeed, many of her students have benefited from it.

My financial team also has some great software.  Not only has it been FINRA reviewed to assure families that they are getting accurate information, but it also generates great college reports that can help us forecast the real cost at any college in the county based on each family’s unique financial profile. Here’s some helpful information on how to make a budget plan for college students.

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Data Has Its Limitations

The first limitation with all these great tools is that they only give us historical data—not real-time data. And what your favorite colleges are doing today on how they calculate your financial rewards can be quite different from what they were doing last year.

The second limitation is that our software can only tell us what a particular college will on average award a student with your financial and/or academic profile.  You need to know what they are likely to do for your student, not with students similar to yours.

There are no tools that can tell us what a college is going to offer your student in “real time.”  There is no way to even know if they are using the same financial aid formulas found on their own websites.  (It’s quite typical for a college’s website to be one to two years out of date.)

What’s a Family to Do?

So what can a family to do to accurately forecast cost and decide how to make a budget plan for college students?  There is only one way to make sure you get the information—ask the college after your student has been accepted.  This can best be done on your college visit to the financial aid office.

Here are some questions you should ask—all of which can affect what you are going to pay for college:

  • How does the college treat our financial need?
    • What percentage of financial need is filled?
    • What percentage of need filled is filled in gift aid?
  • How are merit scholarships treated?
    • Will they first be used to fill my unmet need?
    • Will they also be used to reduce a grant for which I may have been eligible for without the merit aid?
  • How are outside scholarships treated?
    • Can they also be used to fill my unmet need?
    • If not, how will they benefit me?
  • What outside scholarships do you recommend that I pursue?
    •  Are there any departmental scholarships that I can also pursue?
    • Can I receive credit by testing out on any required courses through the College Level Exam Program (CLEP)?

Here’s some help

Our academic and financial team can point you in the right direction and we can give you a likely scenario based on your academic and financial profile.  To avoid any unpleasant surprises, however, parents also need to do their part.



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