It’s a game. It’s not a fun game; rather, it’s deeply rooted in cynicism, but it’s a game. On one side are colleges and universities, trying to get students and parents to pay as much tuition as they can; on the other, parents and students, trying to hold down the astronomical costs of a college education.  

The Wall Street Journal just published an article advising parents on how to survive this tit-for-tat negotiation. Among the recommendations:

Keep your income as low as possible during your child’s senior year in high school; that’s typically the “base year” for calculating expected parental  contribution.

Watch out when non-parents set up 529 accounts, because those dollars, when withdrawn, can be treated as income to the student.

Don’t automatically expect a merit scholarship at a “safety” school; your child’s higher-than-average scores and GPA will warn the school that you’re not really serious.

Get ready to negotiate what the school offers you, even sending award letters from other colleges if they offer more.

Here’s another point that wasn’t explicit in the article: Thanks to the required federal application form, the school knows a lot more about you than you know about its goals and intentions for your child. The school starts out a couple of moves ahead, and you may never catch up.

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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