Leah Ingram, founder of Suddenly Frugal, approaches college planning for her kids with the same level of practicality she delivers in her books, videos, and web site. Through every step of the college admissions process, she zeros on what's important now. In the interview below, Leah shares her approach for guiding her teen daughters through this process.
SCV: When did you begin touring colleges with your kids?
Leah: We started the process early, in the sophomore year of high school, so that by the end of the summer before her junior year, she <the oldest> had seen most all of the schools that interested her.
SCV: It's been said “You shouldn't judge a college by its tour guide.” Do you agree?
Leah: Oh, I disagree entirely. This person has been chosen to represent the college. If I meet a bad tour guide, I think “ If this is the best you can do, then no way.”
SCV: What questions do you ask on a college visit?
Leah: I always ask these three questions: What is the sophomore retention rate? If you give merit aid, is it for this year only? What standard do you hold the student to?
SCV: Which standardized tests did your daughter take and what role did test scores play in college selection?
Leah: My daughter took the SAT as a junior in October and the ACT in the early part of this year with the understanding that her scores would affect the schools she would target.
SCV: There are some who say test scores should not be a factor with respect to where a student visits or sets their sites. What's your take on this?
Leah: That's absolutely ridiculous. Whatever means the college is using to measure the student, you have to comply. If the student is not willing to do the work required, then why are you looking at these schools?
SCV: How does the cost of college factor into college selection?
Leah: That's family specific. You have to ask yourself: “Are you the kind of parent who is going to pay for college no matter what the expense?” After you know the answer to this question, have this convo with your child by the time the teen is a junior in high school.
SCV: What's the frugal approach to paying for college?
Leah: If you're too late to save money via a 529 plan or you make too much money to qualify for financial aid, it may be time to “start living on less.” If both parents work, start banking one salary. Get used to living on one salary. If you have to pay for college, you'll be giving up that salary anyway.
For more money saving tips that can impact your bottom line and perhaps help you have more money to put away for college, follow Leah on Twitter @suddenlyfrugal. Also, check out our #CampusChat transcript on Money Saving Tips for College Students — it's loaded with great advice from our Campus Chat audience.