Perhaps you have read headlines about the skyrocketing cost of college, and are concerned about whether you can afford an advanced education for your child. As usual, there are two sides to every story. While the price of college does go up, just like everything else in life, many families still find affordable ways to fund that elusive diploma. Sometimes it takes a little more work, and there might be a few concessions along the way, but here are some tips to help your family discover new ways to keep college costs in line:
• Do the math: Parents of high school juniors and seniors need to spend some heavy time with a calculator, as the published “cost” of a college is not usually what most families end up paying. The truth of the matter is that you could be eligible for some very generous forms of financial aid, which can make those out-of-pocket costs much more palatable. You want to look at the overall costs, and then compare financial aid offers very carefully. This will give you a handle on how much you will be expected to cover through work-study, personal savings and student loans. If the math doesn’t work out, you might have to consider alternative college plans.
• Go beyond the obvious: Most families only look at the academic costs of a college, and don’t go beyond that in their budget planning. There are many other factors, however, which need to be taken into consideration such as travel expenses, personal expenses, data and cell phone charges, and all of the little items that go into having children living on their own. Estimate these costs in advance, and then look at what you can do to minimize them as much as possible. Every dollar saved is a dollar you won’t have to borrow.
• Do your student loans homework: Before you sign on the dotted line for student loans, you might need to take a crash course on them first. There are federal and private student loans which help cover college costs. A lot of information is available about federal student loans, but you have to do the research yourself to compare private student loan options. Look for a lender, like Discover Student Loans, that is open and upfront about costs, charges zero fees, and even offers a reward for getting good grades. Understanding these differences now might save your family thousands of dollars in interest costs down the road.
Finally, make sure that you get all the financial support you are entitled to receive. The first step in this process is completing the FAFSA – don’t make any assumptions about whether or not you qualify. You never know for sure what you will receive from a particular college until you get a financial aid award letter, so don’t lock yourself out of consideration by not even trying. College can be expensive, but there are ways to keep those costs in line.