Resources for getting the most Financial Aid

Paying for and financing a college education is almost as tough as getting that degree. With the ever-increasing costs of college tuition, it might seem almost impossible to the regular American household to finance higher education. However, there are ways to alleviate some of the pain felt in the dent of your wallet.

First, if your child is considering attending college, start a “college fund” for him/her years before college is even a word in his/her vocabulary. You can put in twenty dollars a month. This might seem a bit small, but once it has a chance to accummulate, say, for twelve or thirteen years, you’ll have plenty of cash to start off the first couple of years of college.

Once the prospect of college looms closer, ask your child if he/she would like to take up a summer job in order to help save up for college. Explain how the cost of tuition is always going to increase. Try to put just half or even a third of these savings into a savings account. Put the rest into a checking account. You don’t have to give up the debit card, however, until you feel that your child is responsible enough not to spend every last dime.

Encourage your child to apply for many scholarships and to compete in essay contests. A great resource is www.fastweb.com. The student just inputs some personal information, and the website does all the work. It lists ongoing scholarships and contests, and it even lists local jobs and internships.

The FAFSA is an important resource for those who want federal loans. These loans are probably the best out there because the grace period is quite long (however, never long enough!). The amount of the federal loan will increase as the student’s college status (freshman, sophomore, etc.) goes up. Fill out the FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Beware of “fake” FAFSA websites. The .gov is very important; otherwise, you will end up scammed.

Financial aid, however, is ultimately decided by the colleges. They have separate financial aid decisions that will affect the total financial aid package. Fill these out to the best of your knowledge. I got lucky because my dad was laid off the year before I went off to college. I got a good enough financial aid package from the college that I wanted to go to. For most people, however, their circumstances usually don’t merit a hefty financial aid package. The student must be diligent in searching for scholarships, and hoping for a large grant from the college.

However, don’t let the rising cost of a college education fool you into thinking that you (or your children) can’t have a college education. Talk to the high school college counselor, speak with the college’s financial aid advisors, etc. They will help you determine how to finance your college education.