5 Ways To Maximize Your Financial Aid: An Interview With Robert Peterson
College is expensive, so families are always interested in hearing more about financial aid and how to find the best college for their money. I interviewed Robert Peterson from Education Planning Resources to report on his answers to the following questions:
- When you are lucky enough to receive an acceptance from more than one college, how do students and parents decide which college to attend?
- How can you negotiate gifting/financial aid from schools?
I first met Robert when he gave a Powerpoint Presentation at Pioneer High School in the fall of 2016. Approximately 100 parents and the occasional student filled the Pioneer HS auditorium. Robert used terms such as the “sticker price” for a school, and “FAFSA friendly” funds. He went through a detailed example to describe how a school may seem more expensive (sticker price) but after considering loan and scholarship offers from that school, the school is more of a bargain than you’d think.
I learned much more than the answers to my original questions in the interview below. To summarize the essentials:
- Start discussing saving for college with a professional as soon as possible, in order to arrange your finances in a way to receive the maximum gifting possible.
- A student’s personal savings account and a family’s 529 plan are two savings methods that don’t always work in a family’s favor.
- Yes, you can negotiate offers of money from colleges.
- Your stretch school is not motivated to offer you their maximum scholarship, because they offer that to students with stronger school records, which they want to attract. Financially, you’ll have your best luck with schools where you fit into the top 25% of students.
- EPR helps you calculate “net cost” for a college using a proprietary database. (Note, the Obama administration also created a public database for families to determine their “net cost” for a school. It is available here.)
Q: How do you help students and their parents make the difficult financial decisions for colleges?
A: We help them in six ways.
We help them:
- Optimize the FAFSA
- Identify highest gifting colleges.
- Negotiate between schools, once they have received award letters.
- Identify schools that will give them most scholarships. We also enroll them in the SAGE program— Tuition Rewards Points as similar to ‘frequent flyer miles’ that can be redeemed for guaranteed discounts on college undergraduate tuition, starting with the freshman year, at over 375 participating private colleges & universities.
- Understand options to pay for the balance due. Parents can use strategies to decrease their taxes and increase your income in retirement.
- Reduce debt. We show parents how to clear their debt and show students how to surrender college debt in 5 years rather than 15, without debt consolidation without spending any more money.
Q: I know you don’t charge for your services. Then how do you make money?
A: Other businesses pay us. We give you strategies, which you can choose to follow or not. If you need to optimize your FAFSA, you need an instrument—these businesses are companies that have a FAFSA-friendly tool. We don’t do securities, stocks, bonds, we can’t lose people’s money for them. We’re not selling tools, we are selling strategies.
Q: What do you advise parents of seniors who making decisions now about schools?
A: FAFSA looks at taxes from January of sophomore year to January of junior year. So ideally, parents should start in grade school or a student’s freshman year. Families of seniors who haven’t worked before on a college spending plan can’t optimize need or merit-based money. However, these parents can manage how they pay for college in a way to have the least impact their finances, and we help manage student loans.
Q: How do parents negotiate scholarships and financial aid from a school?
A: Here’s an example. My daughter wants to go to Siena Heights College, but I asked her also to apply to Oliver and Adrian—because they have a similar program to what she was interested in, and I wanted the award letters from those schools. I knew then I could always go back to Siena and say, for example, you are our first choice, but Adrian gave us this amount, can you meet Adrian’s award?
Q: How does a college “sticker price” work?
A: Parents don’t know that sometimes a private school is cheaper than a public school, because private schools have needs-based gifting from endowment funds. Parents should ignore sticker price. If there is an Ah-Ha moment in our presentation, that’s it.
Q: How do you identify schools that will give students the most scholarships?
A: At our first meeting, we gather information about families and, gather info about students: grades, test scores, what activities they are in, schools they are interested in, etc. We’ve partnered with an organization with a proprietary algorithm based on grades, etc, that tells me which of the top 300 schools are you in the top quartile—those schools are more likely to invest in you to the amount worth a merit based scholarship. Your stretch school is unlikely to invest in students in the lower quartiles.
Essay Coaching: Thank you, Robert for this helpful information.
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