7. Maximizing Financial Aid

Faced with backbreaking college costs, parents desperately try to appear impoverished for financial-aid purposes. But that is trickier than it seems.

—Jonathan Clements, former columnist at The Wall Street Journal

To earn a spot in a respected college’s freshman class, teenagers know the drill: Earn good grades and test scores and show schools that they are great students with promising futures. Despite all the years of preparation that precedes those coveted admissions letters, many families flunk at something that’s also critically important: maximizing their chances for financial aid.

It’s important to understand the basic rules because the financial aid system has perversely punished millions of conscientious ...

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