College tuitions have significantly increased--how are you paying for it?
It’s no shock to any parent that the cost of college tuition has been rising steadily each year. With four-year college costs up in the hundreds of thousands, of dillars parents and students may think that college is out of their grasp. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Families can make college a financial reality by using these 10 creative strategies.
1. Use AP classes to your advantage
Have your student register for as many AP classes as they can handle. Once they have completed the course, they can take the AP tests for each subject and “test out” of those before they go to college. The advantage? You save thousands of dollars on college credit hours.
2. Become the Sherlock Holmes of scholarship searching
In order to reap the rewards (that is, money), you have to do the work. Searching for scholarship dollars is one way you can help your student with the college process. Use online search sites, local resources, Twitter and Facebook to uncover scholarship opportunities. Remember that not all scholarships are academic. Your student should find some that are tailored to their interests and abilities. If you belong to a church, a professional organization, a sorority or fraternity or other niche organization, check to see if the group has a scholarship fund for affiliates and family members.
3. Encourage your student to have an after-school or summer job
Summers and breaks should be used to your financial advantage. Your student can work and save money for tuition or incidental expenses (books, fees, travel, food, etc.). Research has found that those students who invest financially in their education tend to do better in college. Work-study programs can also supplement the cost of tuition.
4. Complete the FAFSA
The FAFSA is mandatory if you want to receive any type of aid from the colleges and the government, including work study. Even if you don’t think you will qualify for government aid, colleges use the FAFSA when awarding merit aid scholarships. It’s free. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing it and losing out on aid.
5. Start with a two-year stint at a community college
Parents and students can save money by starting at a community college and transferring to a four-year college after completing wo years of basic courses. Since community college hours are much lower and most of the first few years of courses are basic, it’s can be a win/win both academically and financially. Additionally, students can take dual-credit classes during high school and chalk up more credits toward their college degree.
6. Consider a private college
Believe it or not, private colleges can be less expensive than state universities. Why? Private colleges have generous alumni donors and have more merit aid available to award to incoming students. State universities give few merit aid scholarships. Just because the price tag might appear out of reach, the aid your student receives could offset that high price tag.
7. Graduate in three years, not four (or five)
The trend is for college students to take four to five years to graduate, with most students taking five years to get their degree. Imagine the amount of money you can save if your student completes it in three years. If they take advantage of AP and dual credit, it’s not reaching for them to finish up early.
8. Save on the “extras”
Most parents don’t realize that tuition, room and board are only part of the actual cost of college. You can save money on room and board by having your student apply as an RA (resident assistant), buy used textbooks or rent them instead, and look closely at the meal plans. Be realistic about how many meals your student will eat on campus. They should also take advantage of all student discounts for food and travel.
9. Look at the figures from each college
Do your research and look at the colleges your student expresses interest in. Compare their financial aid awards and the amount of aid awarded to incoming students each year. Look at the scholarships available and apply if your student qualifies.
The price tag you see on a college education is just like the sticker price on a car. There is always room for negotiation, especially with financial aid awards. Asking for more aid is common and many parents have garnered thousands more just by asking. If you have special circumstances (loss of job, family illness, etc.) you can request a re-evaluation of the aid awarded as well.
Federal parent and student loans are always available to supplement the unmet need by the colleges. However, recent statistics show that graduating with enormous amounts of debt negate the college investment. Be a wise consumer and use those loans sparingly and as a last resort. Your student may have to turn down their first choice college based on the financial figures, but in the long run they will thank you when they graduate with little or no debt.
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