Ins and Outs of College Funding
Tips for paying for your degree.
College tuition costs are on the rise. According to the College Board (College Board.com), the cost of a private four-year college averages $25,143 (up 5.9% from last year); a public four-year school costs about $6,585 (up 6.4% from last year).
“College costs can often be shocking to parents if they do not look into it early,” Alisa Polk, financial aid officer for Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., told Faith & Family. She recommends beginning financial planning for college no later than the junior year of high school — but much earlier, if possible.
Students have a variety of tuition-funding options, including scholarships, federal student aid, 529 plans, savings clubs, and let’s not forget elbow grease and resourceful parents.
There are numerous talent- and need-based scholarships available. The College Board recommends that students brainstorm to determine potential scholarship eligibility — consider religious affiliation, ethnic background, desired major, career interests, talents and extracurricular activities for starters. Begin by looking locally at clubs and service organizations to which the student or parents are members, and check with employers to see if they offer educational scholarships. High school counselors are also good sources of scholarship information for graduating seniors.
After looking locally, research national scholarships through such organizations as the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and the National Merit Scholarship Program. For Catholics, there are 50 scholarships worth $1,500 available to students entering U.S. Catholic colleges and universities. Check with your state’s Department of Higher Education to see what in-state scholarships are available. Finally, research what scholarships your desired colleges offer. And keep in mind the bottom line when looking at schools’ financial aid packages: total tuition cost. “Many look at the amount of aid being offered and think that the school offering the most aid is the best choice,” explained Polk.
Avoid any scholarship-search services that require a fee (scams abound). Find free services at: Col--- -legeAnswer.com, FastWeb.com and Apps.CollegeBoard.com.
Federal Student Aid
Too many students fail to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). According to the American Council on Education’s 2006 report, nearly 41% of all undergraduate college students neglected to apply for federal aid. Unigo.com (a site that features college reviews by college students) recommends that every student, no matter her background, fill out a FAFSA. “Not doing so could result in losing thousands of dollars in educational grants provided by government and educational programs — money you don’t have to pay back,” explains Unigo. Even if the student doesn’t qualify for the grants, he may be eligible for low-interest loans. Visit FAFSA.ed.gov.
529 plans fall under two categories: savings plans, which are state-sponsored college accounts that invest your contributions, tax-free, in mutual funds or similar investments — subject to market risk, and prepaid plans, which allow families to buy all or part of a public in-state education at present-day prices.
Neither have been faring well because of the volatile stock market. Many states’ prepaid plans are in financial trouble. SavingforCollege.com alludes to the possibility that some states may end up having to bail out their programs with taxpayers’ money.
Savings Clubs or
Savings clubs like Upromise and BabyMint put a small percentage of your everyday purchases towards college savings. For example, Upromise (a free service) offers 1% to 25% back from eligible purchases at more than 600 online retailers.
There are also reward credit cards that give cash back or bonuses (1% or 2% contribution) to a savings account every time a purchase is made. The idea is to use the rewards credit card as a cash substitute, and then pay the credit card off each month. The program is beneficial as long as the member avoids using the credit card as a source of additional credit — earnings will be eaten away by high interest rates. See UPromise.com and BabyMint.com.
Beyond scholarships and financial aid, there are other creative ways to pay for college and make tuition more manageable. Requiring the student to get a job to save money for college, applying for the Federal Work-Study Program, or commuting to college are good ways to save on expenses. According to MSN Money (Money.msn.com), negotiating your aid package may also be a possibility: “At some colleges, as many as 75% of students who appeal their financial aid receive extra money.”
Make final decisions on college funding with a trusted financial advisor.
Lori Hadacek Chaplin is based
in Forest City, Iowa.
- September 27-October 3, 2009