When it comes to college planning and decision making, there is one factor above all else that concerns both parents and students – actually paying for all of it!

College is both a very important step for students, while also quite often being an expensive venture both in terms of dollars and sacrifice. That’s why you need to know about some of the best-kept secrets of paying for college to maximize your resources and minimize your costs. 

While it might come as a surprise…it begins much earlier than you think. Saving, planning, and preparing to pay for college begins at the beginning of a student’s high school career, if not before. It can begin even prior to having a child but should begin at the latest should when their time in high school begins.

Let’s break it down:

Paying for College: Saving, Planning, and Preparing


Obviously, you know that savings don’t happen by accident or appear overnight. While this is an important piece of the puzzle to get started on right away, getting an early jump can actually be either extremely beneficial or disastrous depending upon how and where you save.

When we talk about saving, we aren’t limiting our conversation to a traditional college savings fund, like 529 Plans, Education Trusts, UTMA, UGMA’s to name a few. But, anywhere you have assets, shares, or other resources. 

When your student enters high school, this is the time to begin to pay close attention to the areas you want to utilize for their college funding. The reason you should really get laser-focused when your student begins high school is that your financial aid window of qualification will begin on January 1st of their sophomore year. That’s right. Colleges will look at two years of income and assets…just like when you qualify for a mortgage. 

This will give you far more time to save and eventually plan and get ready to pay for college. 


In this stage of the process, you’ll begin to look at your assets, accounts, and resources and plan for what your EFC would be based on these things. Your EFC stands for Expected Family Contribution. According to FAFSA, the EFC:

“EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. Your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) are all considered in the formula. Also considered are your family size and the number of family members who will attend college during the year.”

You’ll want to look at all of these areas and see what this might look like, as it will affect the types of aid your student will be eligible for – in federal, state and private college funding. One other reality that is important to remember is that what colleges believe the average family should be able to afford, versus the reality of what a family can actually afford to cash flow, usually are not on the same page. That’s why we suggest considering the total cost to obtain a degree and building a 4+ year college cash flow plan too.


Now that you have been saving and planning, it’s time to prepare. You’ve taken inventory of your assets and resources and understand what your EFC will most likely be. Your student will be getting ready to fill out the FAFSA and other financial aid forms soon. Before they do this, it’s important to consider and position all of your assets and resources into the most efficient places, prior to completing the forms. 

Remember: positioning should be done proactively through planning and if all possible prior to Jan 1 of sophomore year. If this isn’t a reality for your family, we encourage you to reach out to a qualified college and cash flow professional to ensure adjustments won’t exacerbate your financial situation.

Ultimately, this is what will allow you to maximize outside resources, think college scholarships, grants, and free money. It will also minimize the overall cost and financial impact of college on your current and future lifestyle. Successful planning will allow your student to attend their dream college without having to sacrifice your best retirement.

Financial Aid Questions Answered

Have questions about financial aid, completing forms (FAFSA/CSS Profile) or the college process in general? You can sign up for a complimentary 1-1 session. Get answers to your most pressing questions, discuss your unique situation, and how to get every penny of free college money possible. 

If you’d like to avoid the hassle altogether, schedule a complimentary consultation to learn more about having your financial aid forms prepared for you…sort of like a CPA does for your taxes.

Stay tuned for more great insights and advice as we unpack college financial aid and cash flow over the next several weeks.