paying for college

5 Steps to Paying for a College Education

It’s no secret that the cost of a college education continues to rise with each passing year. For the 2015-2016 school year, the price for a moderate in-state education was $24,061. The cost of a private education came in at $47,831. Many parents hope to be able to pay for their child’s college. However, if you have less than $100,000 in savings by the time they are approaching the gates of higher education, you may have to find other sources of income to help fund the four years of your child’s bachelor’s degree program.

Over the last four years, college and university enrollment has fallen 6 percent. But those numbers don’t have to slow down your child. With early financial planning and smart strategies, you can conquer the rising challenge of paying for college. Here are some tips how.

Start Saving Early

It’s never too early to begin building your child’s college fund. Invest your funds in a financial plan designed just for this purpose, like a 529 plan. This investment program lets you contribute tax-free and earn a high interest rate. Each state has its own 529 plan and your child doesn’t have to use the money in the same state it was invested in, so you can start setting aside money for college long before they know where they want to attend.

Carefully Choose the Right School

If there isn’t a fat college fund waiting for your child, cost will be a factor in the search for the right school. Academic programs, extracurricular activities, and campus life are important considerations that come at a price. Because of this, it’s important to prioritize what they need from a school.

If a student burns through their college fund too quickly, they may have to transfer to a less expensive school. And credits don’t always move seamlessly from one school to another. Make sure that you can afford your child’s first choice school ahead of time so that they don’t lose credits that have already been paid for.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

There are scholarships available for nearly every area of interest, so there’s no excuse for passing up this source of free money. While academic success is one way to score a scholarship, there are also those that base their awards on a student’s location, family background, field of study, or talents and hobbies. There are several websites that collect and organize scholarship opportunities. Search for those that fit your child’s unique situation and begin applying.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to wait until your child’s senior year to apply for scholarships. They can begin submitting applications as early as their sophomore and junior years of high school.

In addition to scholarships, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is a must for any prospective college student. Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify, fill it out anyway. A few thousand dollars a year in financial aid is well worth the effort of applying.

Reconsider Housing Options

Dorm living may seem exciting, but if your child is attending school close to home, it can be an unnecessary expense. If your child isn’t attending school close enough to stay at home, other living options like a shared apartment (maturity level permitting) can help save money before adding room and board to your total college expense.

Earn Some Extra Cash on the Side

If you’re still struggling to meet the financial obligations of your child’s education, you may want to look into a part-time job or other flexible employment opportunity. Consider selling Amway products for extra funds or handmade trinkets and keepsakes on Etsy. You can even clear out the garage and list items for sale on eBay. There are plenty of money-making opportunities out there that are flexible and fun enough to feel more like play than work.

Paying for college is a major challenge, but there are ways to get it done. It may take some hard work, penny-pinching, and sacrifice from both you and your college student, but that degree in their hand will be worth it.

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