Todays times are tough. Families know that sending their kids to college will be a sacrifice, even if they have been saving for it. College tuition has been rising rapidly; however, many household incomes have not. College might seem out of reach for your family but dont despair. Where there is a will, theres a wayyou just have to get a plan and stay the course.
Free money: Everyone likes free money and college is no exception. Every future college students goal should be to get all the free money they can in the form of scholarships, grants, and merit aid. Even if you dont qualify for a Pell Grant, there is other financing available. Colleges dispense scholarships and merit aid to deserving students upon admittance.
Additionally, every high school student should search and apply for scholarships. There are thousands upon thousands of scholarships available and its not inconceivable that you could win enough to finance your entire college education. Sign up for every scholarship search engine (such as Zinch) that will match your qualifications to the right scholarships.
Loans: Loans are always an option for financing college but remember that loans have to be repaid. Investigate websites like Finaid.org that offer repayment breakdowns based on what you are borrowing. Never borrow more than you are able to repay and dont anticipate a huge salary after graduation. College students typically start out at entry level positions and if you borrow too much money, you will be saddled with debt and under water when you are just beginning your life. Before you sign on the dotted line study your options and know the different types of loans available.
Pay as you go: Many colleges offer payment plans to help break the high tuition down into monthly or quarterly payments. Apart from that you can take one or two courses at a time once you have the funds. It may take a little longer but graduating debt free will be worth it.
Community college: You can save some serious cash by attending community college for the first two years. Once you have completed your basic courses, you can transfer to a 4-year university to complete your degree. Community college credits are substantially less than those of 4-year colleges. You can also live at home while attending and save on room and board. This strategy alone will reduce college costs a reasonable amount and make it easier to go forward to complete your degree. Make sure, however, that the college you are transferring to will accept the credits.
Follow these rules
Lastly, follow these rules to maximize your financial aid:
Every family needs to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid); NO EXCEPTIONS.
Almost every family qualifies for some type of aid even if its a federally backed loan at a very low interest rate.
The amount you are expected to pay (EFC) is the same at public or private institutions.
If you have a special family circumstance (medical bills, divorce, unemployment, etc.), these are not covered on financial aid forms, but you can talk to the Financial Aid officer and have your EFC adjusted.
If youre not happy with your financial aid package, you can appeal and negotiate.
Keep your family assets in your name; putting them in your students name will be assessed at a much higher rate.
If finances are an issue, dont discount private universities; their aid packages can be much higher than state funded schools.
Freshman aid packages sometimes change; verify that the aid your teen receives as a freshman carries through to their senior year.
Take a Perkins or Stafford Loan (student) before applying for a PLUS loan (parent).
Look at individual college statistics on how many students received financial aid and how much they received; some of the most expensive colleges might surprise you.
Wise financial decisions and smart planning can help you secure a future for your student without incurring unmanageable debt.
About the author: Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation.Her blog offers timely college tips for parents and provides parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze. She is also a member of the Unigo Expert Network, a College Money Insider Expert, a Student Advisor Expert, an Early Careerists Guest Blogger and the College Coach for Galtime.com. Her expert college advice articles and guest posts can be found at numerous sites related to the college admissions process. You can also find her on Twitter (@suzanneshaffer) and Facebook (parentcollegecoach).