Late start tips on finding college money

May 5, 2008

Here are tips for those getting a late start on finding college money


It’s the 11th hour — no, make that the12th hour — and the clock is ticking closer to midnight in your scramble to find college money for your high school senior.


You’re standing at the starting line. You have this feeling of guilt. Paralysis is setting in.


“We have done a very poor job of saving money to send our son to college,” one mother lamented to me earlier this month. “Our oldest is a senior in high school and we’re totally unprepared. We don’t know where to start.”


Unfortunately, experts say, this is an all-too-common situation. Not that finding chunks of money for college is a walk through the park, but many parents haven’t really come to grips with what it may take to cover even a sliver of tuition, room and board, and books, said Kal Chany, a college consultant based in New York and author of The Princeton Review’s Paying for College Without Going Broke.


If this sounds like your situation, don’t roll over and give up. You still have time to take control. Here are some tips to help you — and your college-bound hopeful — quickly get focused:


•Do some homework. The lion’s share of need-based financial aid comes from federal and state government, so you need to devote most of your time to becoming knowledgeable about the process, the deadlines and how eligibility is determined.


To qualify for federal financial aid, as well as state aid and grants from many colleges and universities, you must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA (


The Department of Education begins accepting FAFSA applications for the 2008-2009 school year in January. Between now and then, Chany says, parents should determine at least a ballpark number for their expected family contribution, which is the amount the family will be expected to contribute to college costs in the aid formulas.


Why is this important? Because the cost of attendance — the sum of tuition and fees and room and board, plus allowances for supplies, books, transportation costs and other personal expenses — minus the expected family contribution gives you an approximate number for need-based aid.


To crunch your numbers, check out financial aid calculators on Web sites such as , There also are many excellent guidebooks.


•Investigate free merit money. If you’re a top athlete, scholar, or a talented musician, you may easily qualify for merit-based scholarships from a school.


But there seemingly are scholarships for every extracurricular activity and hobby — from Scouting to the environmental club to duck calling. While merit money is available from thousands of employers, organizations and religious institutions, local awards may be less of a long shot than national contests. Besides a multitude of Web-based search tools, your child’s guidance counselor should have scholarship lists.


Get right on this, because many application deadlines are coming up quickly. Also, Chany said, as your student bears down on applications and essays, keep in mind that “less than 5 percent of the money for college comes from outside private scholarship sources. So don’t devote a huge amount of time to this.”


•Be wary of the hired gun. If you feel like you’re in over your head, professional help is available from college consultants and scholarship search services. But be careful when considering some of these national services, which often rely on direct mail or mass e-mail blitzes to attract families. Their promises, at the very least, can be of questionable value.


On the other hand, some professional consultants who walk you through every aspect of the application and financial aid process can be worth every penny.


Decide how much time and money you want to devote to this project.


•Look for deals. As your student comes up with a final list of schools to apply to, it may pay to look for offers like this incentive from the University of Kansas: The university will lock in a guaranteed tuition rate for in-state students for four years. There’s another parental benefit to the plan — students will have added incentive to graduate in four years.


It is risky, of course, to wait so late in the game to start eyeballing the tuition tab. But with a little bit of knowledge about the financial aid process, you can at least get going in the right direction before the clock strikes 12.



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