Saving for college, applying for admittance and getting financial aid can all be complicated processes, so it's not surprising that many myths have sprung up about paying for education.
The following five myths, however, can wind up costing you dearly:
'Saving for college hurts financial aid.' Saving in a child's name -- such as in a custodial account -- definitely has a big negative impact on potential financial aid, since financial aid formulas expect 35 percent of the student's assets to be spent each year on college.
Money in 529 college savings plans, on the other hand, typically has little impact, since it's counted as a parental asset and less than 6 percent of the balance will be counted against financial aid.
Income counts far more heavily than assets in determining financial aid, in any case. The more income you make, the more colleges will assume you've saved for college, whether you actually have or not.
'Massive debt' versus 'financial aid.' Most financial aid these days comes in the form of loans. That's why Stuart Ritter, senior financial planner for T. Rowe Price, suggests substituting the phrase "massive debt" for "financial aid" when you hear someone say they're afraid saving for college will hurt a child's ability to get financial aid.
"What they're really saying is they're afraid they'll hurt the child's ability to get massive debt," Ritter said.
'We aren't rich, so we will get financial aid.' I'm regularly contacted by parents who are flummoxed by how much they're expected to pay. Again, income counts heavily, and those with higher incomes can't expect much need-based help regardless of their expenses.
'If I have financial need, colleges will fill it.' Only about a third of public institutions and fewer than one out of five private schools are committed to meeting 100 percent of their students' financial need, according to a 2008 study for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The vast majority of colleges deliberately leave a gap between a student's financial need and what the institutions provide in grants, scholarships, loans and work study.
'My kid can work his way through school.' Working your way through community college is certainly doable, and some motivated students support themselves long enough to get a four-year degree.
But study after study has made the point that the more hours a student works, the more likely he or she is to drop out. It's simply harder than it used to be to get an education on one's own.