Financial Aid Tips for Parents of High School Students

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As another school year begins, parents of high school juniors and seniors are just embarking on the long road to achieving the college dream for their children. You may have already poured over the brochures, taken some trips this summer, and started narrowing the list down to your Top 10, but have you done anything about the financial end of college yet?

If you pay attention to the news media, you might think the cost of a college education is spiraling out of control. But a New York Times article by David Leonhardt points out that the government is making the same mistake many first-time parents of college-bound students make. To prove how college costs have increased dramatically the government often relies on published tuition figures, without taking college financial aid into consideration. The College Board estimates that the average tuition and fees last year were $12,460 at private colleges and $3,120 for in-state students at public four-year colleges, after financial aid was factored into the equation.

Since the deciding factor in college affordability is the amount of financial aid received, here are some tips to get you started:

• The FAFSA Matters: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the entry point for federal student aid and often for state, college and private financial aid as well. It is important to complete this form quickly and properly. Visit the government’s website now and learn everything you can about this form. It is usually available online beginning in October, but you can start collecting your information now. When the forms are available, file as soon as possible because some aid is limited and only available on a first-come, first-served basis.

• Search for Scholarships: After the grants and financial aid from the federal government and the college, scholarships are one of the best ways of bridging the financial gap. Search for scholarships early and often.

• Work-Study Programs Help: These programs help students earn money for college, and they also prepare them for life. Inside Higher Ed reported on a study by two Columbia University researchers which found that, “Students who participate in the federal work-study program are more likely to graduate and be employed six years after college than their similar counterparts who don’t participate in the program.”

• Learn About Student Loans Now: Don’t wait until your child needs money to learn about the differences between federal and private student loans. Invest the time to research them properly now so you can make smart financial decisions later.

Talk to Financial Aid Professionals

There is no need to deal with all of the financial aid decisions on your own. Talk to your high school guidance counselor and the financial aid office where your child is applying. If you need more information about college financial aid, or would like to learn more about federal and private student loans, contact College Financial Aid Advisors (CFAA) or visit my About.com website, Paying for College.