By Susan Tompor
Detroit Free Press.
The fun thing about scanning a stream of tweets is that you’re bound to spot something that you didn’t know. Some quick fact or news tidbit pops up and gives you a clue into the bigger picture.
Ditto for a new twist for delving into the mind-boggling process involved with college scholarships, student loans, financial aid and other aspects involved with paying for college.
It’s called a “Twisdom”, or what college financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz calls “tweetable wisdom.”
Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com, is someone who clearly has an encyclopedic knowledge of college savings programs and financial aid. But no one is forced here to read an encyclopedia. Kantrowitz has written a fun, readable book called “Twisdoms About Paying for College” (Edvisors Network Inc., $7.95 for the thin paperback and $4.95 for the Kindle version).
No, every quick item here is not limited to a 140-character read, as on Twitter. But the Twisdom approach does offer short, specific advice that’s easy to comprehend and ultimately can motivate you to dig a bit deeper into the topic.
As a mom of a high school senior, I am aware of how precious little time we have. Parents, students and high school counselors are stretched to the limit juggling jobs, sports practices, term papers, college applications, essays and, yes, all those crazy tours of college campuses.
Time to study up on FAFSA, college scholarships, and the grant process? Sure, I’ll do that during my lunch hour.
But the funny thing is that this book does allow parents with children of any age, and the earlier the better, to start studying some complex topics during very limited downtime.
To make the book easier to pick up, chapters focus on specific months beginning in September, which is National College Savings Month.
Some September Twisdoms:
-Parents have a tendency to overestimate their child’s eligibility for merit-based aid and to underestimate their child’s eligibility for need-based financial aid.
-About half of all scholarships have deadlines in the fall, so don’t wait until spring to start searching for scholarships.
-Search for scholarships at free scholarship search sites, such as StudentScholarshipSearch.com and CollegeBoard.org.
-Less than 1 percent of students in bachelor’s degree programs win a completely free ride.
-Kantrowitz suggests that students take a different approach when faced with writing essays for a college application or scholarship. Many essay questions aren’t easy to address. His Twisdom: “When writing essays, try recording yourself as you answer that question out loud. Then, transcribe the recording and add structure by organizing and outlining your thoughts.”
-Take the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of your junior year in high school. This is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, a major scholarship program.
-Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships or apply for a scholarship.
-Beware of the unclaimed aid myth. The only scholarships that ever go unclaimed can’t be claimed, such as scholarships with very restrictive selection criteria.
-Taking an organized, seasonal approach to these topics allows you to move forward during the year with confidence that you’re going to accomplish something here. A busy student or parent can pick up some advice just by skimming the book at various times in a school year.
Kantrowitz offers guidelines on FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which becomes available Jan. 1. His advice: File FAFSA as soon as possible on or after Jan. 1. You do not have to wait until your tax returns have been filed or the student is admitted into a specific college to file the FAFSA.
One of his Twisdoms: “Students who file the FAFSA in January, February and March receive more than double the grants, on average, of students who file the FAFSA later.”
Keeping costs and borrowing down must be a priority for many students and their families.
And Kantrowitz offers some advice there, as well. Some tips sound basic for students: Do not spend money in vending machines.
Cut travel costs by going home less frequently. Live like a student while you are in school, so you don’t have to live like a student after you graduate.
Kantrowitz also has some points that some families might not have considered. Low-income students, for example, can ask about application fee waivers and admission test fee waivers. Students who take a “full-time” academic program of 12 credits each academic term will not graduate in four years. Take an extra class each academic term and during the summer term to accelerate your progress to an academic degree.
But here’s my favorite Twisdom, and maybe one that many of us don’t exactly want to hear: “A $10 pizza a week costs $2,000 over a 4-year college career.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press.