With a college-bound high school senior in the family, we’ve been exploring lots of ways to finance college tuition. Navigating the world of college finances isn’t anything new to us since we have already put two older sons through college. What is new is figuring out how to pay for a private college in another state.
Our family has visited several college campuses this year to get a feeling of which campus might be a good fit for our teen. We also learned a lot of valuable information when it came to college finances.
When to start applying for scholarships
Part of the process of paying for any college means applying for every possible scholarship you can imagine. We learned through our campus visits that students should start researching scholarships as early as their sophomore year.
Why to file an early FAFSA
For incoming college freshmen, a FAFSA should be completed by January 31 even if all you can do is estimate (using last year’s income figures will usually work). The reason for the early application is so colleges can start setting aside money for your student based on your estimated income. Earlier filing means a better chance of landing some additional financial aid which often comes in the shape of private scholarships.
Work study opportunities
Work study is an option on the FAFSA but landing those federally funded campus jobs can be tough to do. At two of the campuses we visited, we were happy to learn that these universities had non-federal funds earmarked for teens who wanted to work on campus as a way to pay for college expenses.
Where families can cut costs
College is expensive even with financial aid and scholarships. We learned on our college visits of several ways that we could shave costs by tweaking the meal plans, applying for insurance waivers, using public transport, buying e-textbooks, and other little tips.
Why visiting a college campus matters
As your teen narrows down her choice of colleges, it’s important to make time to visit each of these college campuses. One of the things we heard over and over again is that students who make the effort to visit the campus and communicate with the financial aid office are moved to the top of the list for scholarship consideration. Keeping in touch often makes the difference in whether or not your teen can afford the college of her choice.
Visiting a college campus with your teen is a great way to determine if the school will be a good match for your child’s personality and career goals. And for the parents, a personal visit with the financial aid office will help you determine the true costs of your child’s education and what assistance is available.
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