How to maximize financial aid and college savings

In this "Eye on Money" series, Jill Schlesinger joins "CBS This Morning" with tips for getting the best financial aid
In this "Eye on Money" series, Jill Schlesing... 03:37

Friday is decision day for many high school seniors across the country. They're picking what college to attend in the fall.

A single year at a four-year college could run on average between $18,943 at a public, in-state school to $42,419 at a private university, according to The College Board. That leaves many students wondering how they'll save up and pay for tuition.

"You actually have time to negotiate here in the next couple of days," CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger said Wednesday on "CBS This Morning."

If you get a better financial aid offer from a different school, and you want the school of your choice to match it, parents should not be the ones calling the school.

"Have the kid make the call directly. College admissions officers and financial aid officials tell me, if the kid makes the appeal, we're more likely to do something about it," Schlesinger said.

With so many college students graduating with debt, Schlesinger offered a rule of thumb to follow when trying to get a loan for school.

"A fantastic ideas is to consider what your major's going to be and what you think your first year's salary will be," she recommended. "Cap the amount you borrow at what you believe your first year's salary's going to be."

The U.S. Department of Education said the average financial aid in loans and grants that students receive is $19,543 per year at a public school and $31,399 per year at a private, nonprofit school.

Even if you don't know what you'll major in, you can estimate based on the field of interest.

Ultimately, for parents, the best way to save for their child's college education is the Section 529 plan, Schlesinger said. It's operated by states and, while the dollars you put in aren't tax deductible, they do grow tax-deferred. When you take it out, no tax is due.

"Think of it like a Roth IRA for your college savings," Schlesinger said.

Schlesinger advised parents save for the college fund after the most important things are checked off.

"Pay down your debt, [establish an] emergency reserve fund, pay for retirement, don't worry about college. It's not your most important priority," she said.