At this time of year, parents of high school seniors are usually looking at financial aid awards and developing a plan to pay for college. They expect scholarships, grants, and student loans to cover most of the costs. If you don't already have a plan in place, now is the time to put one in motion.
Every college and university has a financial aid office that is a great resource of information. Personnel can tell you what is available to your child, and they can help guide you through the process.
Your first step is to complete the Free Application for Student Aid (or FAFSA) form. You’ve already filed your taxes so you have much of the information on hand that you’ll need to complete the paperwork. This is an on-line application and though it’s convenient to complete, be forewarned that it does take a bit of time to finish. You’ll have to fill out and file a FAFSA at the beginning of each year that your child is in college and the first year does take the longest to complete, but each subsequent year you’ll find that much of the application will auto-complete based on the previous year’s information. Make sure your annual taxes are completed first, otherwise you won’t have the personal financial information that you need. You’ll need this information for both student and parents, so have that ready before you begin.
Once completed, the FAFSA is sent electronically to the financial aid office at your school of choice. You’ll then receive a determination of exactly how much money your child is eligible to receive through federal assistance programs and grants, how much you can borrow through federal loans, and how much you may need to secure through other private agencies. Your best friend at this point is the school’s financial aid office, so when visiting the campus make sure to pay a visit to them. You’ll likely need to be in contact with them throughout your child’s college years for answers, information (including all important deadlines), and assistance.
Need help coming up with more assistance than what’s provided in the report? You can look into the literally thousands of private grants and scholarships. The financial aid office can help you there as well. They’ll have information of student work programs too.
Hopefully you’ve set aside some money to help pay for college. Even so, the rising costs can be really intimidating and frankly, out of reach for most people to handle on their own. When you’re looking at the annual cost, don’t forget to factor in not only tuition, room, and board, but also other educational expenses that your student will undoubtedly encounter. Best to have a bit of a cushion too for unexpected incidentals like gas money to get home on breaks, cell phone bills, seasonal clothes, room/apartment furnishings, laptop, etc.
So if you haven’t done so already, jump on that FAFSA and get it done. This is the beginning of a great adventure for you and your student and there are a lot of financial options available to you to make it happen!