Marc Cuniberti: Selecting the right college for your kids | TheUnion.com

Marc Cuniberti: Selecting the right college for your kids

Marc Cuniberti
Columnist

Sending a child off to college can be challenging in more ways than one. Not only is there heartbreak on a personal level from a loved one leaving home for good but the costs can also break the proverbial bank as well.

There are a myriad of options as to what schools one can select which run the gamut from local junior colleges, state colleges, or as in California, UC schools. Then there are the many private schools. I was surprised when we started the college selection process just how many private schools there were.

We considered many things as we compiled a list of potential schools for my 17 year old son Kyle. We retained the services of a professional college advisor to help us and in hindsight that was the best decision we made. With all the deadlines and considerations, choices and requirements, we found her services beyond invaluable.

Whittling down the choices

As to school selection, for our son, junior colleges were of no interest so we eliminated that option immediately. Grades and test scores had a bearing on what schools we selected and although Kyle has never received a grade under an A, other test factors determined some schools were still out of the question.

His vocational interests steered us toward some schools and away from others. The list was by default getting smaller and we were thankful for it.

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The UC system was less expensive than out of state schools yet they themselves offered little financial assistance unless a student was very exceptional in sports or merit.

State colleges can cost less than the UC systems but the quality of education, at least to my son, was in question. Not to say state colleges aren't quality institutions, they are. But Kyle had it in his head to go to a UC school, an Ivy League school or A big name private school, so that's where we focused.

Private schools offered financial assistance depending on family income, grade merit and athletic scholarship and the smaller colleges seemed to want students and went out of their way to do what they could to help families financially and through the whole process.

In the UC schools process however, we felt we were just one of the many mass applicants.

Interestingly enough, Ivy Leagues schools don't necessarily cost more than others, they are just harder to get in to. Acceptance rates in the single digits make trying for one of these schools discouraging but not impossible.

In our particular case, family income is sporadic and varies drastically year to year.

Planning ahead

Since the financial evaluation system evaluates family income made during the time the student was a junior in high school, we basically got railed when we applied for Kyle due to a one-off circumstance which spiked our income last year.

Although one-off income streams are just that: one time occurrences, it hurt us badly when it came to qualifying for help. Families not familiar with how these things work could end up paying more for special circumstances like these onetime spikes in income. You can be sure when my next child goes into his junior year in high school, I will take every legal maneuver available to me to get my income down in that particular year.

As of things I did to prepare for college cost years ago, a 529 college saving plan helped and we did what is supposed to be done, mainly set one up when a child is born. These college funds have special IRS considerations which can help defer potential tax liabilities yet can offer growth while the child grows.

Saving income instead of buying a new car every year and foregoing lavish vacations are wise decisions and can really add to the college accounts over the 18 year span leading to adulthood.

Never lose sight of how much college will cost and just how important college is to insuring a happier life for your child when he graduates into adulthood and the workforce.

For my family, spending money on an independent college counselor (in lieu of the standard high school counselors) was one of the best decisions we made.

The cost vastly outweighed the potential headaches and the application deficiencies we would have experienced had we not retained her services. The hunt for a college and its application process is challenging enough. To go it alone, at least in my opinion, would have been frightening.

We are not done selecting a school for our first child and are far from figuring out how we are going to pay for all of it when all three kids complete the process, but in the end, the rewards to our children and our sense of pride in their accomplishments makes it all more than worthwhile.

This article expresses the opinions of Marc Cuniberti and are opinions only and should not be construed or acted upon as individual investment advice. He is an Investment Advisor Representative through Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. He can be contacted at MKB Financial Services 164 Maple St. #1, Auburn, 530-823-2792. MKB Financial Services and Cambridge are not affiliated. His website is http://www.moneymanagementradio.com.

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