ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Preparing for college is top of mind for many local high school students and their families. 

While college can be an unforgettable experience, it can also be a very expensive one. News 8’s Ally Peters spoke with CPA Garrett Wagner, with the New York State Society of CPAs, about planning for college financially. 

How early should families start thinking about financial aid?

“You really want to start early. The normal process is a family starts looking for schools, then they just hope for financial aid in the backend. Really, financial aid should be something considered as early as middle school, which is really a shock every time I say that,” Wagner said. 

“You want to find the school where your student is that first-round draft pick choice of the application pool, and not just somewhere they hope to get in, because what you see is different schools use different financial aid formulas, so you can start to look at what type of school and what circumstances will be best for you.”

What are the largest sources of financial aid that families should be thinking about?

“Most people think of FASFA, which is the federal government, but the largest source of aid, counting loans, is actually from colleges themselves in the form of scholarships and grants, and that’s where you want to start planning for,” Wagner said. 

How can you get more aid for college? 

“The best advice on this is to find the college that really wants that student, because this means the school is going to be more motivated to provide aid,” Wagner said. “Something we tell people: getting admitted does not mean a school really wants that student, getting admitted is really an invitation to pay the full price, which in today’s market can be as high as $80,000 a year.”

What are the best ways to save for college?

“One of the best ways here in New York is to put the maximum amount each year into a 529 plan for your child, and this has got some great tax savings as well,” Wagner said. “Otherwise, step number two is to just put a plan in place. Now that plan is going to change, but the sooner you can start planning for the future, the better off you’ll be.”

To contact the New York State Society of CPAs, click here.