Preparing for college can definitely be a stressful time for a student, and, if your child is anything like my son, it’s a challenge for mom and/or dad too.
“Where should I apply?” “What am I going to study?” “When do I have to make a decision?” These are all questions that can be difficult to answer, but “How am I going to pay for college?" seems to be the toughest. Let’s face it, the cost of college is probably the largest expense that a teen or young adult has ever taken on, and the dollar amount is certainly overwhelming.
There are many ways to assist in paying college expenses and, as I quickly learned, it’s not the same path for everyone. Here are tips that I found helpful during our family’s first journey into continuing education.
Fill out the FAFSA
Even if you don’t expect to qualify for aid, make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s the first step to getting financial aid. I can tell you the application can be confusing, but you should fill it out as soon as your child has an idea of the school(s) he will be applying to. Some schools award money on a first come, first served basis and you want to make sure you put your hat in the ring. Also note that many private schools require you to complete a College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS) which is different than FAFSA and is used to determine the distribution of the institution’s loans, grants and scholarships. Take the time to submit all the required information; it will be well worth it in the long run.
Search for Scholarships
Scholarships are free money, and who doesn’t want that? It’s amazing how many different ones are out there for the taking; you just have to spend the time looking. Your child’s high school can be a good source of information as well as a search on scholarship sites like niche.com or fastweb.com. These sites will match your child with an abundance of scholarships, and, whether you think they qualify or not, they should apply to as many as they can. There are different requirements such as recommendation letters, essays, and academic achievements for each application. Deadlines vary, so students should continue to search even after they start their freshman year.
Saving’s … That’s What It’s For
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “It’s never too early to start saving,” and, in the case of college planning, this could not be more true. The earlier you start to put money into a savings account for college, the better off you will be when the time comes to pay the first tuition bill. Aside from a traditional savings account, a 529 savings plan is an excellent choice. 529 accounts allow you to save money that will increase tax-free over time. By depositing funds over a period of time, the savings add up without the temptation of withdrawing the money. Once in school, your child can use the savings for qualified education expenses like tuition, room and board, and books. Additionally, if the parent is the owner of the 529 account, it is considered a parental asset and therefore has little or no impact on financial aid qualification.
Take out Federal Loans
When it comes to taking out a student loan, federal loans are the first option you should look at. They generally offer lower interest rates, deferred payments and borrower protection. When you fill out the FAFSA application for aid, you are also applying for federal loans.
There are several type of federal loans available. The most common are Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans. Both offer the benefits of federal borrowing, but subsidized loans are available to undergraduate students only and the government covers the accrued interest as long as the student is in school. Unsubsidized loans do accrue interest and it is added to the balance at the end of the grace period. If presented with a federal loan offer, you are not obligated to accept all that is offered and should make sure you understand what the terms of the offer are.
Borrow with Private Loans
Once your child decides which school he is going to attend, and you add up all the assistance you receive through federal aid, grants, scholarships, and federal loans, you will likely have a remaining balance that needs to be paid out of pocket. As mentioned before, if you start saving early you should have additional money set aside, but you may still need some help.
This is when a private loan comes into play. When you are in need of the extra money you should do your research. Shop around to find the lowest interest rate, best borrower protection and flexible options. Remember that private loans usually accrue interest while you are in school, which means you will have more to pay back after graduation. Take your time to make the best decision for yourself and your child.
GOLD Credit Union is here to help you navigate your way through the college ride. We have partnered with Sallie Mae to offer our Members trustworthy information on paying for college, competitive student loans and products, and scholarship resources.
Check out our student loan options, or call 484-223-4216 to speak with our lending experts and find out what loan is right for you. Go forth and conquer!