The only thing scarier than getting into college is figuring out how to pay for it. With public universities now costing more than $120,000 for tuition, room, and board for four years, and private colleges costing upwards of $300,000 all in, most families need a plan, and many need all the help they can get.
Consider the following to help defray the cost of college:
1. Fill out the FAFSA by October 31, 2017 (if you are a senior in high school). FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is almost universally used by colleges when determining need-based financial aid awards. FAFSA asks families to include information about family finances including assets, debts, income, expenses, etc. You must fill out this form to receive need-based financial aid, and at many schools aid is awarded on a first come, first served basis. Said differently, if you miss the deadline and apply late, the college you enroll at may have already exhausted its financial aid funds.
2. Apply for financial aid – you may qualify for it even if you think you won’t. Many colleges offer grants covering the cost of tuition to families whose income is less than or equal to $150,000 per year. Keep an open mind when it comes to financial aid. Even if your family makes more than this, if there are extenuating circumstances affecting your family’s ability to pay, be sure to document them in the financial aid application. Financial aid officers are not mind readers. They need to be educated about your family’s finances.
3. Apply for outside scholarships. Scholly (app), www.scholarships.com, The College Board’s Big Future, and your high school guidance counselor are all great resources for searching for and applying to third party scholarships that can help reduce the cost of college. Our general rule of thumb is to apply for smaller ones that are less competitive. Dedicating one hour per month could yield incredible results over time. Try to reuse essays from your other scholarship applications to the extent possible, and look for local scholarships, ones that match your demographic background or plans for the future.
4. Apply to private safety colleges. Many families think private colleges are too expensive and do not want their kids to apply to them. However, if you are at the top of the applicant pool for one of them based on GPA and test scores, they may offer you a full tuition scholarship to improve their class’ profile (which goes into their US News Ranking). Be open minded with schools where this may apply to you as they may end up costing less than a public school.
5. Talk to a financial planner specializing in college funding. There may be special tax programs in your state, or ways to title any college savings plan in an advantageous way when the time comes to apply for financial aid.
Remember: Understanding the potential financial resources available to you is part of the equation. Educating yourself about the resources and applying for the appropriate ones in a methodical and timely fashion can hopefully take the sting out of this task and replace it with inspiration for what you can achieve.