While financial aid officers use formulas to determine a family’s financial need, they also retain a lot of latitude to make decisions that might go against their calculations. And one potentially important and often overlooked way to influence that decision is the degree to which a family has made an honest effort to save, regardless of the amount.
Financial aid officers believe that it is both the student’s and parent’s responsibility to pay for college to the degree that they are able. Any honest effort to save is a reflection that a family is taking that responsibility seriously, a signal that can positively influence the type and amount of the aid you receive. Flagrantly living beyond your means, especially when paired with an expectation that a college will somehow come through to make up the difference between the cost of college and what you can afford, sends a very different message and will elicit a very different reaction.
Every dollar you save for college is a dollar you don’t have to borrow or rely on a financial aid package to cover. That’s the numerical advantage. But don’t forget the other potential advantage, one that’s based less on numbers and more on your earnest effort to save.