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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Getting Help Paying for College


Yes, it's the race for college funds again! This topic hit the blog as I was reminded again on Sunday what a chore this is...it was time once again to fill out the FAFSA form to apply for grants, financial aid, etc. for my son. The deadline for this lengthy form is May 1st each year and each year I do it just a little closer to the deadline! So for those of you reading that have high school and college students in the family (or fall into that category yourself) here are a few quick tips for getting help with the huge college bills:

1) Always fill out the FAFSA - even if you don't think you qualify, you might! Even a little $ helps and besides, if you don't qualify for funds straight out, they can set you up with the appropriate student loans.

2) Look REGULARLY (not just once or twice because sites are updated) at websites providing information on scholarships as well as college testing details (i.e. SATs).
Two I strongly suggest looking at are:

www.fastweb.com
www.collegeboard.com

Also check your high school and college websites. Consider checking re: scholarships related to the parents' companies, your religious affiliation, community organizations, etc. Sometimes there is $ available where you would least expect it!

3) Students' academic achievements are very important but now schools also look for well-rounded students. Students should have extra-curricular activities that include clubs, leadership roles, work experience and, most importantly, volunteer work. I suggest that these experiences be tied to future career goals if at all possible; for example, my daughter wants to be a veterinarian and currently has a part-time job at our local vet plus has done volunteer work with a local animal shelter. My son wants to teach and volunteered many hours at our public library (and as a result got his books paid for by a library scholarship freshman year). Don't know where to look for opportunities? First try the school counseling office, your local community paper and, if you need more ideas, check out:

www.volunteermatch.org

4) For parents of younger kids, check out www.upromise.com. This site helps you save money with minimal effort...you (and your family and friends) sign up and when you use certain credit cards or club cards, a % of your purchase (generally between 1
and 8%) goes into your "account" for the specified child. When you have enough saved to open a 529 savings account, you can do that online as well and transfer your Upromise earnings into the account. There is nothing to lose with this and, while it doesn't necessarily produce a lot of earnings, it's still like getting "free" money. I even signed up much later (my kids were already teens), but why not? (and if you don't have kids or relatives with kids...let me know! I will invite you to sign up for mine...HA!)

5) Don't overlook opportunities to earn college credits as early as 9th grade! Many schools offer dual credit courses where you earn both high school and college credit for certain courses. You do have to pay for the credits but it cuts some time off school when you are paying room and board! Also, you/your student can take Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school which give you high school credit and then allow you to take a placement test at the end of the course. If you score well, you can place out of entry-level courses in college and/or receive college credit for the comparable college course. Check with your school for additional information. Also be aware that how credits are applied can vary by college - be sure to check on requirements for the schools of your choice.

One final note: I was unaware at first, but quickly found out that scholarships are still available once a student is actually attending college! You should continue to check the scholarship sites and with the career counseling center at the college as opportunities continue to become available! Also DON'T FORGET, the FAFSA must be filled out every year...not just for high school seniors!

Happy tuition $ hunting!

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