It’s go time for parents of high school seniors, who are heading to college a year from now. College visits should be wrapping up. Standardized tests scores should be just about polished. And the hard work of filling out those college applications has begun.
But that doesn’t mean only parents of high school seniors should be making plans for their college-bound kids. There is plenty for parents of underclassmen to research and consider in the coming year to make college more affordable.
Don’t ignore the college fund
Maybe you opened a 529 College Savings Plan when your child was born. Maybe you haven’t saved a cent toward your child’s college education. Regardless, now is not the time to ignore an existing fund … or give up because you never started one.
If you do have a fund or savings account where you have diligently saved for your child, great work! Keep it up!
If you don’t have a college fund for your child, it’s not too late. You still can set up a 529 Plan and reap some of the benefits. Also, consider UPromise, which allows you to earn back money on things you buy, savings that you can then sock away in a GoalSaver or 529 account.
‘Score’ potential colleges
Some colleges and higher education institutions are fantastic values, featuring a low-cost, high-quality education and an alumni base that find jobs soon after graduation. Others don’t have such stellar track records.
The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard makes it easy to evaluate colleges and universities across the country with details about everything from the average annual cost and the graduation rate to the average salary of students after graduation. Students can compare schools based on their interests such as the location, size and degree programs.
Meet your child’s guidance counselor
The guidance counselor at your child’s school can play a big role in the application process, including answering questions about financial aid. The College Board explains your counselor’s role in the college process.
Get to know the FAFSA
If you’re a few years away from sending your child to college, you won’t be able to apply now for financial aid, but you can get yourself familiar with the FAFSA -- the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. For those who will need financial aid, the form is critical. You’ll need to fill out it in order to determine your child’s eligibility for loans, grants and work-study programs. It also could impact the aid your child may get from other sources.
Look out for scholarships
Scholarships might not pay for the full cost of college, but they certainly can make a big difference. Now is a great time to get a jump start on those scholarship applications. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a free online list with information about dozens of scholarships.
Consider an Early College High School or community college
Early College High Schools, where graduates leave with a high school and associate’s degree or college credit, are great options for those hoping to cut college costs. These programs are offered in a growing number of public school systems across the country. Check with your child’s school system to see if an Early College is located near you.
Community colleges also can cut down substantially on college costs, allowing your child to earn a two-year degree at a much less expensive institution before they finish their bachelor’s degree elsewhere. The American Association of Community Colleges lists two-year institutions across the country.
Whatever you do, include your child, starting now, in your research about affordable college options. Make sure they have a realistic vision about what’s possible and what the options for them will be without racking up mounds of college debt.
The CESI Team is committed to helping you reach your financial goals. If debt keeps you from living the life you dream of, contact us for a free debt analysis today and get started on the road to a brighter future!
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Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit service provider of comprehensive personal financial education and solutions for all life stages and for all of life’s milestones. Our goal is enhanced economic security for everyone we serve.
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