Preparing Your Child for College
Understanding the Cost
College is expensive. But it’s an investment that pays off over a lifetime. If you don’t know how you or your child will pay for it, that is normal. Many families are in the same situation. Colleges have entire departments dedicated to helping students and families understand the cost of college and their payment options (the financial aid office). In fact, there are many ways to pay for college.
- How much will college cost?
Colleges come in all shapes and sizes, and the costs vary just as much. Actually, tuition is only a portion of the expense. To get a full understanding of the cost, visit a college’s website and look for their “estimated cost of attendance” (COA), or you can find more information on this site.
- Who should we talk to about financial aid?
For starters, visit with your child’s high school counselor. Some high schools or organizations also offer financial aid fairs. These are great opportunities to visit with a person from a college who deals with admissions or financial aid. This site also has some great information on financial aid.
- What is the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form that students and families complete to apply for financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study. There are sections of the form that are for parents. And they’ll require your income and tax information. Find out more here.
- How does my child get a grant or scholarship?
When possible, you want to get both. Grants and scholarships are free money that doesn’t have to be repaid. There are many types of grants. To see if your child qualifies for a grant, start with the FAFSA. Scholarships typically have their own application process. Research the many types of scholarships and see which ones your child has a chance to win. This site offers a scholarship search tool to help. You can also visit with your child’s high school counselor about options through your school.
- Will my child have debt when they graduate?
That’s a big question, and there are many variables. Once your child narrows the list of colleges they are interested in, they should compare the costs for each school, including tuition, living expenses, fees, and transportation if the school is a long way from home. You or your child should also visit with a representative from the college’s financial aid office. They’ll be able to estimate the total cost. Depending on the cost to attend the college, the amount of financial aid received through the college, and scholarships received outside the college, it is possible that loans will not be needed.
- What is a PLUS loan?
PLUS loans are federal loans that parents can use to help pay for college for their child. The parent takes out the loan and is responsible for repayment.