When the time is right, do you think there will be enough money to send your child to college? No matter how much money you think you have now, there’s always an unforeseen “something” lurking in the distance waiting for the opportunity to disrupt your plans. With that “something” in mind, know that it’s never too early to start planning for your child’s college education.
And think this concept only applies to parents with children in high school? Think again.
Picture this: you're a young entrepreneur, part of the business world making a great salary. But as with anything, situations change, things happen and you lose your job…savings dwindle as you take time to regroup and reorganize. Suddenly, you find yourself struggling to make ends meet. Time passes much more quickly than you realize, and finances become a serious concern.
You realize that your kindergartner will soon become a middle grade student, counting the days until he’s in high school and becomes an eligible candidate for college. The family discussions begin and you realize that the cost of tuition, school fees and books will increase substantially from what you originally may have expected.
Are You Ready?
It’s important for families to have a fail-safe plan for the future. When it comes to your child’s education, discuss whether or not your child will have the opportunity to go to college—and whether or not you’ll be financially prepared.
Many parents and children are under the impression that only the super-smart or star athletes have the opportunity to go to college through special scholarships, grants or awards. But, since this type of student is in the minority, it’s safe to say this isn’t totally accurate. With decent grades, a good attitude and the right resources, your child can also boast of being a college graduate even if there’s a sudden depletion of the family finances.
If you start early and take the time to do the research, you’ll find that there are many sources of money for college. Some tips to keep in mind:
- Check with your place of business. Does your company offer financial aid to their employee’s children? Your workplace’s Human Resources office should be on your list.
- Contact your alma mater. Many colleges provide a special deal for the children of alumni. Some schools also provide a sibling discount, so if you have a child currently attending college, look into the possibility of reduced tuition for little brother or sister.
- Investigate in your community. Local service organizations such as Kiwanis, Lions Club, Rotary and AAUW (American Association for University Women) frequently offer scholarship opportunities or competitions.
- Seek federal funds. Pell grants, student loans and other “mentoring” type programs are available. See the next page for a sidebar on FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to read more information on federal funding opportunities.
- Seek out unique scholarship opportunities. Search for different scholarship sources based on ethnic heritage, religious affiliations or specific interests.
- Work ahead. Encourage your child to take advanced placement (AP) courses offered by your high school. These courses provide college credit through the AP exam, resulting in fewer classes he needs to take once he gets to college.
- Use available resources. Make use of the high school guidance office and do the work yourself at the local library or bookstore. There are books that show what kinds of resources are available to help offset college costs.
- Ask for help. Inquire about the various payment plans at your child’s school of choice. You may be able to spread payments over the semester. Some schools may also allow advance payment to avoid a possible raise in tuition costs later.
- Think outside the box. Check on co-operative programs that allow your child to attend classes one semester then do careerrelated work the next. He’ll save money, gain experience and become known in a field or the company he may some day want to work for.
- Start small. Consider letting your child attend a local junior college first. The tuition is less expensive; he can live at home, commute and take some basic courses that are required at most colleges. Just be sure to check on which credits can be transferred to another school.
These leads should get you and your child started on the path to financial stability for college, under any circumstance.
Take care to do the homework, understand all the criteria that’s presented, fill out appropriate forms and follow the directions carefully. You have options and college can be affordable no matter what surprises pop up on the horizon.
Helen Colella is a freelance writer whose work includes educational books and materials, articles and anthologies. She also operates a writing service business for independent publishers (underthecuckooclock.org).
Tips about Attending College in Oklahoma
In Oklahoma, the cost of attending college tends to run less than the national average. A year at an Oklahoma research university runs about $15,000 per year, including books, fees, room and board, and other related costs for a full-time student, compared to less than $10,000 at the regional universities and about $7,700 at a community college. (More information on college costs in Oklahoma is available at okcollegestart.org.)
Oklahoma students have one additional option called Oklahoma’s Promise. Available only to eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students (homeschooled students must be 13-15 years old), Oklahoma’s Promise covers the cost of tuition for students whose family income is $50,000 or less at the time they apply for the program and less than $100,000 at the time the student enters college. (More information on Oklahoma’s Promise is available at okhighered.org/ okpromise).
Understanding the FAFSA Process
If your child is about to enter college, you may have heard about FAFSA: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Since many grants, scholarships and low-cost student loans are awarded based on the information provided on the FAFSA, completing this form is a must if your student is seeking financial aid to help pay for college. Even if you think your family won’t qualify, it’s still important to complete the FAFSA because it may help to find schoolspecific aid.
Not sure where to start? Go to FAFSA.gov, the official FAFSA website. Completing and submitting your application is always free, so be cautious of other “look-a-like” sites that require you to pay to complete the process.
Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s best to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after the first of the year. The earlier your family completes the application, the better your chances are for receiving financial aid. You’ll need information from last year’s tax return to complete the form. You can submit the FAFSA using estimated income and tax information, but the form must be updated if any information differs from what you’ve estimated.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that the form will take less than an hour to complete if all necessary paperwork is in-hand when the application is started. For a list of documentation that may be needed, visit ucango2.org/fafsa.
Completing your application online at FAFSA.gov is safe and secure, and much easier and faster than the paper application. In addition, if you start your application but can’t finish right away, your application will be stored online up to 45 days.
If you have questions, talk with your local financial aid office or, when completing the FAFSA online, view the ‘Help and Hints’ box on the right-hand side of the screen. Also, visit ucango2.org/fafsa for additional resources, including some frequently asked questions about the financial aid process.
Contributed by Lacy Myers, from the Guaranteed Student Loan Authority.