While the coronavirus upends higher education, it may be a good time for parents and students to set their sights on stretch schools as they do their college planning.
Elite colleges and universities are seeing a decline in applications, especially from international students, thanks to the disruptions caused by the virus. That creates more opportunities to get into a freshman class.
Now is an opportune time for families to identify top-ranked schools that may not have been on their list previously, said James Lewis, president of the National Society of High School Scholars.
“There are some fabulous universities that are looking for great students,” Lewis said. “Think big. You don’t have to go to the university down the street. You can go to the premier universities across the country.”
Parents shouldn’t be put off by the price tag for the top tier of schools because some of them are also the most generous in offering financial aid, Lewis said.
There also is a deep pool of scholarship money that is not being tapped to the fullest extent, Lewis said. He recommends that parents and students look into organizations like the National Scholarship Providers Association.
“There’s a lot of money that doesn’t get used because students don’t apply,” Lewis said. “There’s so much money out there that’s merit-based.”
Winning a scholarship is not something on which every student can depend. Even if they do garner financial aid, there still may be significant expenses to cover. If families are going to pay for private education, they should do it at the college level rather than laying out big dollars on private high schools, Lewis said.
“It may be better to save your funds for higher education,” he said. “It’s OK to go to a good public [high] school.”
Although parents often pick up most or all of the bill for education at every level, it’s best for their children to understand the financial challenge of attending college.
College planning is a conversation in which a financial adviser can play a part, said Daniel Crosby, chief behavioral officer at Orion Advisors. They can break it down into the everyday dollars and cents.
“Put it in a language they’ll understand — a tangible, workable language for a young adult,” Crosby said.
The pandemic has increased the need for clients’ children to help pay the college bills because there is a greater focus on what they’re getting for their money, said Kerrie Debbs, a partner at Main Street Financial Solutions.
“The kids need to have skin in the game,” Debbs said.
One thing the pandemic hasn’t changed is the need to start thinking early about saving for post-high school education, Lewis said.
“The key thing is to do early planning,” he said. “Set up your accounts and let them grow.”
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.