My daughter just graduated, June 2019. Accepted into Tulane, University of Southern Cal, Princeton, UCLA, UCSD, and Rice. She was waitlisted at Caltech, and didn't get into Stanford or Yale. College is a crap shoot be prepared for any and everything. We also have a good income of around 250K and are fifty years old. We live in expensive CA. We have four children and this fall two will be in college and the other two are right behind, middle and HS. I was naive and thought with two in college we may receive something. NOPE!!!! Figured with the amount we have paid in taxes over the last 18 years our kids would surely get something. NOPE!!! Many of the privates were 65K-75K. Princeton offered $0, USC $3,700 and when I told them I had another child in a UC school at 35K receiving $0 aid they said sorry that's all they could do. Now how I am suppose to pay $105K a year for college and still live is beyond me. The avg. merit aid we received was around $0-10K. They said they consider your past, current, and future earning potential in determining aide. Princeton and USC would've been over $80K by graduation. Oh, and by the way the average student takes 5-6 years to graduate not four. With the high cost of housing in CA, we live in a middle class neighborhood, as we bought at high end of market, but we are blessed to make a good wage. However, after we pay for retirement, health insurance, 529's and save a little the $$ is gone. I know that we have much more than most but I wish I had been better prepared for this reality.
Daughter had excellent stats, great grades, community service, and a female majoring in STEM. However, I learned biggest factor in aid is still need. The grades and great stats just got her admitted. I had her apply to a few Ivy League schools because I figured she would get aid. WRONG again! All aid at Ivy's is need based and they said we don't need it. Hated to tell daughter she couldn't go to Princeton, but I've listened to Suze Orman long enough to know better. My daughter is going to UCLA for Bioengeering for 35K and received a 10K scholarship. I'm so grateful that CA has so many great in state options.
If you are around $150K-200K I wouldn't plan on much aid, of course this varies case by case. (Talk to a financial advisor early.) Every asset will be counted against you. If you need a car or to fix up house plan to do it at least two years before applying for aide so that $$ isn't counted against you.
Plan to have kids go in state. We have 529's, but our four kids are all two years apart and will attend in close succession. It's hard to save $800K for college and that's a low estimate it will probably be closer to 1 million for all four. Great grades are important but over 4.0's are so common now that they aren't overly impressive any more. You have to stand out. Have your kids participate in activities with potential for national recognition. Everyone does choir, theatre, or a sport etc. etc. They need those things and more, if they are in Boy or Girl Scouts MAKE them I repeat MAKE them complete there Gold Award or Eagle Scout Project. If not Try and have them complete a project that impacts your community or some where internationally. Have them take a mission trip so they have something to write about on their college essays. This will also give them opportunities to serve and see how truly blessed they are. This may stand out as much as a 4.5 and may get them some merit $$. Colleges want leaders and innovators.
****If your child is really really smart make sure they take the PSAT In Oct. of Frosh and Soph year. If they score in the high 99th percentile make sure they take the PSAT again Junior year to qualify for National Merit Scholar consideration. This will increase opportunity for real merit aide money by 95 %. (Talk to H.S. counselor.) If your child is close to qualifying PAY for a tutor to get the score up enough to try and qualify. My daughter feel into this category, but we didn't know she had to take test Junior year for consideration. So Junior year she only took SAT and she should've taken both. Don't depend on school counselors, do your own research. Lastly, take advantage of your local community college. MAKE your kids take at least one class over summer, once they begin HS, start getting college units now. My HS sophomore has already taken two classes. When you are paying for everything out of pocket your kid has to graduate in four years, o'yeah and no changing majors. Time is MONEY! We are having our kids take out the federal loan limit for guaranteed student loans, because they need to have some skin in the game too. They may have 25-30K a piece in debt, out of 180-200K. Not a perfect scenario, but could be worse.
High income families please plan, plan, plan. There is no safety net for you. If you are unprepared your children just won't be able to go to college they will not get aid $0 grants and probs 100% loans. Please whatever you do don't allow your kids or yourself to finance college with private loans, because it probably won't end well. If you can't swing it have your kids attend the local community college for first two years then transfer. What people don't realize is that many high income earners are living paycheck to paycheck just like everyone else and college is a heavy lift for them too. High income doesn't always equate to high lifestyle. Too blessed to be stressed. I have prayed and planned and now just watch me sit back and Watch God Provide.