Advice from the Financial Aid Expert

helpCollege soccer scholarships are very rarely “free rides,” and college is getting more and more expensive every year.

Many competitive soccer families find themselves in a difficult financial situation in the years leading up to their athlete leaving for college:  They are in the middle and upper-middle class economic ranges, and even though they don’t feel “wealthy” at all, they qualify for very little “need based” financial aid (if they qualify for any at all).

Making college affordable for the parents while minimizing their children’s debt upon graduation is a goal of many parents of college-bound soccer players.

We asked financial aid expert, Jen McMahon, about the search for college affordability.

allstarJen is the head of the financial aid department at an NCAA Division II university.  She also owns and operates All Star Financial Aid, a private financial aid consulting group specializing in finding aid for families of college-bound student athletes. **

Before the Q&A with Jen, some basics:

FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA can be filed beginning Oct 1 of a high schooler’s senior year, and needs to be re-filed every year after that throughout college.

EFC: Expected Family Contribution.  The FAFSA will return a number to the family that states how much the family should be able to pay per year towards college. (This number frequently results in a lot of sarcastic and “are you kidding me!?” laughter.)

Now on to the Q&A with the expert:

RSF Attack: Besides not saving enough money early enough, what is the most common mistake families make regarding college finances? 

jen-mcmahon-1Jen McMahon: The most common mistake is not to file the FAFSA.  Some families think that they make too much money, but by not filing the FAFSA they are saying they are not interested in any other scholarships and grants.

RSF Attack: What would you say is the biggest financial misconception you see from families of college-bound athletes? 

Jen McMahon: The misconception is that D1 is always better than any other division.  Young American children see only D1 football and basketball on TV.  We are teaching our children that D1 is where it’s at.  Outside of football and basketball, other sports compete possibly at even a higher level than D1 in other divisions.

RSF Attack: If parents of a high schooler haven’t started saving for their child’s college education, what is the best thing they can do now? Or is all hope lost? 

Jen McMahon: You may not believe it, I am not saving for my kids college. It actually hurts you on the FAFSA.  All hope is not lost there is a lot of money out there in scholarship and grants.  It’s also amazing what loan programs are out there for students and parents.

RSF Attack: For families that don’t qualify for need-based aid based on the FAFSA but still need help covering college costs, what is your first piece of advice to them? 

Jen McMahon: File the FAFSA. You may not be eligible for need based federal grants, but may qualify for a college’s need based scholarships and grants. They won’t be able to give them to you unless you file the FAFSA. Also, all students no matter what the need is, will be able to borrow between $5500-7500 just by filling out the FAFSA.

RSF Attack: Many parents don’t consider private universities because of an assumption that they will be much more expensive than a public/state school.  Is this a poor assumption?

Jen McMahon: The sticker price is defiantly more expensive, but the student’s “need” is greater, so it can level out for families. A private school can end up being an even lower cost than a state school in some cases.

RSF Attack: What is your opinion of the current student loan crisis, with so many college graduates crippled by their student loan debt? (42 million Americans own 1.3 trillion in students loans, with many owing $100,000 or more after graduation from college.)

Jen McMahon: I haven’t seen that students are “crippled” by their student loan debt.  I see that students are uneducated about student loans and don’t know their options.  The government has great programs in place for students to be able to manage their student loans.  Additionally, students that take out student loans have better GPA’s and are able to build up their credit. Taking out a loan that has to be paid back after graduation helps a student feel like they have a stake in their education, too, since they have “skin in the game.” As long as the debt is manageable and reasonable, student loans can be good. The “crisis” that I see is not with the student loan program but the lack of financial preparation that students receive K-12.  We are not equipping our students to be able to handle finances.  That’s why several universities are implementing financial literacy programs to provide assistance for those student.

RSF Attack: Thank you for your advice and insight!