It’s really never too early to start thinking about how you will pay for your child’s college education. If your child is still very young, now is a great time to consider opening a 529 Plan or a pre-paid college plan. You can increase the earnings in these funds quickly by getting family members involved. Encourage grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends to make a contribution to your child’s college fund in lieu of birthday or other holiday gifts. It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to save a percentage of his or her allowance, as this will teach your child the importance of planning ahead. But, what if your child is a high school senior or already in college? Is there any hope of getting enough financial aid to help cover his or her expenses? Yes, if you put together a solid financial game plan.
First, be sure you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). According to a recent CNN report, as many as two million students are missing out on financial aid, and it’s not that they don’t qualify for it — it’s because they didn't complete the FAFSA. Even if you do submit the FAFSA and fail to receive a Pell Grant, you should not assume your child will receive the same results in subsequent years. The financial aid formulas used by colleges are very complicated, and the amount of aid your child receives can fluctuate from year to year. Changes in your family income, number of household members, or the number of family members attending college can affect your child’s eligibility for financial aid, as well as other factors. The FAFSA is also your child’s ticket to institutional financial aid and low-interest federal student loans, so it’s very important to submit the form every year your child attends college. The form is available January 1 of your child’s senior year of high school, and it’s a good idea to complete it as early as possible because some schools award financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis.
Next, start searching for scholarships, if your child hasn’t already begun the process. Your son or daughter could have been applying for scholarships as earlier as his or her freshman year of high school, but there are still plenty of opportunities available. It’s also important to continue applying throughout college, as many scholarships are not renewable. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that scholarships are only given to the brightest students or those with low incomes; scholarships come in all shapes and sizes. Use your child’s volunteer work, artistic or athletic talent, and other interests to secure financial assistance for college. Not sure where to look for scholarships? Try several of these resources:
Financial aid office
High school and college websites
Churches and other religious groups
Your company's human resources office
Social Media (Twitter, Pinterest, etc.)
Free online scholarship tools
Finally, leverage student and professional connections to earn financial aid. Many clubs and organizations offer scholarships and grants to their members. If your child belongs to an honor society, thespian club, or an athletic league, ask about potential financial assistance. You should also check with any business memberships you may have through work. If your child is currently in college, he or she may also be able to receive scholarships by joining a sorority or fraternity, as well as other career-specific organizations.
The important thing to remember when it comes to finding and receiving financial aid is to think ahead. Nothing is more frustrating than having your child gain acceptance to his or her dream college only to realize that you can’t pay for it.
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