Spring is an exciting time to be on a college campus. As the weather turns, so does the mood of students and faculty. And those high-schoolers visiting campus add a new dose of hope and promise for the future.
Yet high-schoolers and their parents also have some trepidation. And, when I meet with parents, it's not long before the costs of college are raised as a very real concern.
In its most recent report issued last year, the nonprofit Project on Student Debt reported that 71 percent of students who graduated in 2012 did so with student loan debt – averaging just more than $29,000 per borrowing student — a staggering amount considering the entry-level salaries in some professions.
Last week, I analyzed websites and apps that make visits to college campuses easier for high schoolers and their parents. Today, I'll examine the financial side of the equation.
If you conduct a quick Google search on paying for your child's college, you'll find a wealth of articles and sites on saving for your child's educationfrom when they are born. But sometimes life gets in the way, and when it's time to start thinking about sending your child to college, it's time for a discussion on how to pay for it.
As always, we do the work so you don't have to:
— The Personal Finance Workbook for Dummies includes a section on “Borrowing Money for Your Child's Education.” This is a solid resource, outlining tuition-borrowing options for parents and students, as well as federal student aid programs available, including interest rates.
— College Abacus has received some favorable reviews thanks to its online application, the Net Price Calculator, a fairly intuitive app that walks you through some basic background questions and develops cost estimates for the colleges your child is looking at.
— As I navigated through the FAFSA Community site, I began having flashbacks to when I was filling out Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) during my college years. All I remember is a lot of paper... and headaches. This site gives you a step-by-step tutorial on how to fill out the paperwork – and what documents you will need during the process. There is also a FAFSA guide, which walks students through a variety of different scenarios, including how to handle applications if your parents are divorced.
— I mentioned Peterson's College Guide in last week's blog post about their Q&A on financial aid The guide has a wealth of information, including a section on how to reduce college costs and this important tidbit: “Just be sure to apply for everything you can, including federal, state and school or college aid, as well as private scholarships.”
This brings me to an area that seems to go untapped. Since I began teaching at UMass Amherst, I've been stunned by the amount of scholarships available, both prior to and after a student's arrival on campus.
Yet, many students (and their parents) are unaware of such options.
My friend and colleague Jackie Brousseau-Pereira, who is also the Director of External Affairs in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UMass, says that out of the 4,000 or so students in the school, only about 200 apply for scholarships.
“This is partially because of the criteria for the individual scholarships, but I think there's more to it than that. I think many students don't go out of their way to look for scholarships,” she said.
Scholarships can get pretty specific – focusing on areas of study that may be a little unclear for high school juniors and seniors visiting college campuses. But, it's worth the time for parents and their children to research available options at a school. These are usually found in the office of the dean in charge of scholarships. Not only will scholarships help defer the increasingly expensive costs of a college education, but it may just help your child focus on his or her area of study. Make the most of college visits – talk to professors and other students, but also talk to those involved with the financial side. You and your child will likely be glad you did.