Along with separation and divorce comes lots of worry. The children, finances, career, family and friends and so on… But, probably long after the judge finalizes your divorce, the kids are about to graduate from high school and will likely want to head off to college.
Since divorce happens both when the kids are little as well as when the kids are fully grown, it is important to consider both the logistical and financial considerations of sending children to college.
When thinking about divorce, it is important, if at all possible, for both parties to discuss college, costs and how both parents will share in this potential expenditure. All of this information should ideally be included within your divorce agreement. If this topic is put off to a time when the children are older, you will likely find yourself wanting to go back to court (again!) to address college and the financial costs.
If you and your (former) spouse are unable to speak about this amongst yourselves, then it is best to discuss this with your respective attorneys so that all agreements may be recorded. Also to consider as part of your agreement, in addition to the cost of tuition are room and board, books, lab fees, test prep, college application fees, trips to visit colleges, travel during college to and from home, medical insurance, computers, fraternity and sorority costs and more.
While you may not wish to not even think about college yet, you could potentially be doing yourself and your children a huge financial disservice. It is not safe to assume that as a single parent your child will automatically receive a free ride to college. This is simply not true.
Additionally, many of the more popular private universities (not all!) will still want to see the financial information for both parents. It is ideal if both parents can agree to cooperating with providing their respective financial information to those colleges requesting the information.
As your children near their Senior year in high school, I always advise parents to be open and honest with their children in regards to finances for college, both what is financially available and what is affordable. Work with your child to set goals, whether it be certain schools within a given radius so that the child may commute to college or perhaps schools that ultimately will cost a certain amount of money after merit and need based scholarships. By speaking openly and honestly with your children, you will share values and develop goals as a family. Otherwise, each of you may have different expectations, potentially leading to a tremendous amount of stress and resentment in the household.
Research various colleges and universities ahead of submitting applications. This is key! And don’t just look at those schools that we see on the bumper stickers! It is important to look for those schools that are more likely to offer your child merit aid.
Please know that children do not need to be straight A students to receive merit aid! Perhaps your child plays a certain musical instrument or intends to major in a specific program or has excellent test scores, etc. Merit aid is available from most schools and is awarded for varying reasons. Set expectations, together with your child, so that you are working as a team instead of providing added stress to what can be an already stressful process.
During the application process, consider both public and private universities and fill out the FAFSA and CSS Profile (if requested). Each form may paint your family’s financial situation in a different light resulting in different amounts of aid being offered. And while the FAFSA focuses only on the household in which the child primarily resides and receives most of his/her support from, the CSS Profile may request information from the non-custodial parent, though not always.
All in all, while divorce is always difficult, there are methods and means in which to help our children achieve their dream of going to college. By correctly filing FAFSA and CSS Profile to be eligible for both need based and merit based scholarships and strategically applying to colleges that are likely to offer more merit based aid, you and your child may find substantial cost savings as well as financial, academic and social success.
Vicki Vollweiler is the Founder of College Financial Prep. She holds her MBA degree (for which she received a “Full Ride”) and is also certified as a Divorce Coach. As a divorced mom of two children, one already in college, she works primarily with separated and divorced families and specializes in unique situations with the goals to maximize college financial aid. She can be contacted at 516-225-5224 or by email at CollegeFinancialPrep@gmail.com. Visit www.CollegeFinancialPrep.com to learn more or like College Financial Prep on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/CollegeFinancialPrep/.
College Financial Prep provides families with cost saving strategies, scholarship research and financial aid preparation. Contact College Financial Prep today at 516-225-5224!