Looking at that first tuition bill can be eye opening
Seeing the first college tuition bill can be a shock.
Lots of colleges drop their first tuition bills so they arrive the first week or two in July. Now you see that per semester or quarter direct costs, that is the items in your cost of attendance that are billed directly from the college.
Typically, the Financial Aid Office sends the data to Bursar’s Office with your free money and student loan disbursements to appear on your tuition bill. Most financial aid like scholarships and student loans will be referenced with descriptive adjective like “anticipated” or “scheduled.”
But there may be some other costs that are also tacked on there based on your class registration or a different amount then what was listed on your award letter for room and board. What gives?
There are a host of choices that students have for each year or even enrollment period that may add to the cost of that tuition invoice. Remember when the housing office asked you to pick your campus housing option. Maria insisted that she wanted to be in a single in the brand spanking new dorm because with so much change, the thought of doubling up with a person she just met was too much to bear. Well, that choice may have added over $1,000 to the semester bill. Also, that studio art class that will meet Liam’s arts and humanities general education requirement, also came with a $250 fee to pay for clay, the use of kiln, and admission to the docent lead tour at the local art museum.
Once you confirm that all these additional college costs are legitimate based on your student’s choices, consider having that kitchen table conversation about who is covering what of these direct college costs and with what money. If you and your student are not certain how you are going to pay the remaining amount due, then review your options:
Use money from that college savings account now to pay this first tuition bill and then budget your monthly wages starting now to help pay for next semester. There are a lot of students and parents who can budget their income from work-study jobs, summer employment, or that Monday thru Friday job, but they don’t have those dollars available in advance. If you can give yourself room to breathe by using more of those college savings dollars to make this current semester (or quarter) payment, do it. Then focus on the accumulation to pay next semester’s tuition bill.
Review the school’s payment plan information. Most schools offer a payment plan that may be as little as $25 a semester or up to $150. Typically, these plans offer the ability to spread your payment for a single enrollment period into 3, 4, or even 5 monthly-payments. Tuition payment plans can make it easier to pay your portion of those big tuition costs plus spread other billable costs like that option fee for access to the school athletic facilities. When you sign up, just ensure that you know how many payments will be for the semester (or quarter), the due dates, and best way to deliver the funds without any penalties.
Consider if someone needs to borrow more. If you’ve maximized your free money, have signed up for the payment plan, and budgeted from income and savings, and it still doesn't seem to be enough, then it’s time to go back to review your borrowing options. Find the balance between student and parent borrowing. Remember that if you used Pay4Edu.com, you can login and update your first-year costs, to assess you funding options. If your student has not max’ed out your Federal Student Direct Loan, perhaps you need to ask the Financial Aid Office to increase that student loan. If your anticipated aid already has a Private Student Loan or Private Parent Loan, but it's not enough to bring you to a zero balance on the college bill, then consider working with your lender and your school to determine if you can add the loan amount or if you need to apply again and complete another promissory note.
Colleen MacDonald Krumwiede is a financial aid expert after over a decade of financial aid experience at Stanford GSB, Caltech, and Pomona College and another decade at educational finance and technology companies servicing higher education. She guides go-to-market strategy and product development at Pay4 to transform the way families afford college.