The beginning of another year brings a fresh slate of opportunities and challenges. For high school students thinking about going to college, or even most college students, money is usually one constant concern. As much as we like to focus on the academic benefits of college, there is always the nagging question of how to pay for it.
The biggest factor in determining if you can afford to attend a certain school is the amount of financial aid you receive, but this is also where the confusion arises. Although filing the FAFSA is an important first step in receiving financial support in the form of federal, state and institutional programs, the process gets pretty blurry after that. There are many terms like verification, student loans, scholarships, and work-study that can impact the whole money picture, but very little knowledge about what it all means.
Students may start thinking they have to do all this research and learning on their own, but that just isn’t the case. Fortunately, there are many people who stand on the side of students and are ready to provide plenty of insights, experience, and financial aid advice. Talk to a few of these people and it will make your life much easier this year:
• Your parents: It may seem hard to believe, but your parents actually do know a thing or two about money. After all, they created a home and raised you for eighteen years, didn’t they? So take advantage of all their hard-learned lessons and spend some serious time in college money discussions with them. Find out exactly how much your family can spend on sending you to college, and discuss your financial responsibilities along the way.
• Older students: Talk to your friends who are already in college and learn about what they are doing to pay for it. Ask about what they think they did right, and what really didn’t work for them at all.
• High school counselors: Your guidance office may have insights on college payment strategies, scholarships, and college costs that can help you get a good handle on where to start and what to do next.
• Financial aid offices: As you visit the various colleges on your “maybe” list, make a point to stop by the financial aid office and talk to their representatives. Put some time into preparing for these visits. Study up on what the colleges usually offer to prospective students and have a list of questions to ask about what you can do to be eligible to receive the maximum amount of assistance.
• Professional college financial aid advisors: These are professionals, like me, who have a broad and unbiased view of financial aid. We don’t have a particular slant toward any one college – our focus is on helping each family put together the financial resources needed to help their child attend a great college that will build the foundation for a successful life. We can provide you with an understanding of the entire financial aid process from the time you are in school, through the college years, and can even offer insights into planning ahead to repay student loans after graduation. I offer a free initial strategy session, and then clearly explain the costs involved in using my time to complete each of the specific financial aid steps.
• Federal government: Surprisingly enough, the government does want you to take advantage of federal financial aid availability. Check out their financial aid website or use their contact info to get answers to your specific questions.•
• Student loan lenders: When it comes time to learn about borrowing money for college, private student loan lenders can be a wealth of information. Talk to a representative before signing on the dotted line.
I do wish you good luck with all of your endeavors in 2019, but remember that success isn’t always based just on luck. Sometimes you have to make your own luck by going out and getting the help you need. There are plenty of people who want to help you find a way to pay for college – all you have to do is ask!