With research, early preparation, and open discussions, financing your student’s college education doesn’t have to be confusing. Here are some things to think about:
One of the first things parents should do is sit down and have an open conversation about everyone’s expectations for financing secondary education. Be practical about affordability and the realistic options available. Are there other family members (like grandparents) who may contribute towards costs? Talking about these things ahead of time is good because it puts everyone on the same page, which helps avoid future confusion and arguments. It can also help when looking at colleges and trying to determine how much a specific school may cost.
In the fall of senior year students apply for federal financial aid. The FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) becomes available beginning October 1. Filing for financial aid early may allow more time to compare funding options. Even if you think your family will not qualify for financial aid, you should still fill it out. You never know if your financial situation will suddenly change, necessitating an appeal for funding eligibility. There are also scholarship applications that will ask for your student’s FAFSA information. Definitely, do not skip this step. You can take a preview of your financial aid by using the My College Corner Financial Aid Calculator.
Students who work may be setting a portion of each paycheck aside for future expenses like required books or technology. If students haven’t been saving for college, it’s not too late to start; every dollar saved now is one less to borrow in the future. Encourage your student to look for part time work locally to help get accustomed to earning, and saving more. Just keep the work/school schedule balanced as academics should remain a priority. If students don’t think they have time to work every week on a regular schedule, they can look into more flexible jobs like babysitting or dog walking. Finally, it’s exciting to earn money, but also easy to spend it. Commit to a regular savings plan using a percentage of earnings with every pay check. When allocating savings, it’s probably best to keep the funding in a 529 plan or other college savings plans, as they can derive tax benefits.
Scholarships & Competitions
If your student isn’t a senior, think about what steps they can take now to finance their education. How can they best position themselves to apply for scholarships? For competitive scholarships, students may need a letter of recommendation; continue to encourage the nurturing of relationships with people they might ask. There are also competitions in specific disciplines that have prize money, including writing contests and science fairs. Get ahead of the process by using a scholarship search engine and apply for many different opportunities to increase odds of success.