College application season is in full swing. As your teen applies to college and you see how much it costs, don't let your fears overshadow an otherwise exciting time in your child's life. The key is to not believe the financial myths surrounding the price of a higher education.
Many students add the tuition price, textbook fees and the cost of living and say there is no way they can afford college. The truth is most college students require some form of financial aid. Don't ignore college because of its "sticker price." Your child can receive a combination of grants, loans, scholarships or work-study jobs to help reduce the cost. You and your student may also have to explore different schools based on affordability.
Financial aid comes in many forms—grants and scholarships, which don't have to be repaid, and loans, which do have to be repaid. There is need-based aid for students of lower income families, and merit-based aid for students who excel in athletics, music, community service and many other areas. Financial aid sources are as varied, too—the federal government, the college or university itself, your employer, and many others. Explore all the possibilities; you'll be surprised.
Scholarship scams are everywhere. Beware of any group or individual that guarantees a scholarship if you pay a fee. There are many good and free scholarship sources on the Internet. Check out fastweb.com or finaid.org for more information, and check out the free scholarship search at collegenet.com.
Most need-based financial aid is based on the student's and the parents' income and assets. Most schools require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for need-based aid. The form, available online at fafsa.ed.gov, asks for information similar to what's needed for income taxes. After submitting the FAFSA, your child receives a report that shows how much the government expects you to pay toward your teen's education. If you aren't ready to file yet, visit ACT's financial aid calculator to get an estimate of your expected family contribution.
Most financial aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Don't wait to get started. Looking for financial aid probably isn't your child's idea of a good time, but it's better than graduating from college with a huge debt.