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Money’s tight and college tuition rates are out of sight. How can you help your kid get someone else to pay her way?
- Start with the college itself. Your child may get a nice scholarship offer – even a free ride – from a second-tier school. Don’t reject this out of hand, just because it’s from a school you never heard of. Check into the school, see if it’s accredited, see what programs it offers and how many of its students graduate in four years with a degree. Many second- and third-tier schools are eager to attract good students and they may make an offer your kid should consider. This same thought holds for your local community college or state school – don’t rule them out. It’s easier to fund the lower tuition of a nearby tax-supported school than the higher costs of a fancier school that’s a distance away. Where a person goes to school is less important than actually going.
- If your child is a top student, play hard ball. If your child gets admitted to a school he’d love to attend, negotiate the best deal you can. Remember that schools want great students. You may not be offered everything you want but the package of grants, loans, and work-study opportunities might make things do-able. If you don’t like the first offer, don’t be shy about asking for something more. You might get it.
- Look around for local scholarship opportunities. Small organizations and local foundations offer scholarships for students with particular career goals, or with special talents, or even with a particular heritage or religion. These are not heavily advertised – in fact, many small funders have a hard time finding students to help. So ask around. See what you can scare up in your own town.
- Think “Multiple Sources Of Funding.” No one scholarship may get your child all the money she needs, so think of patching together several small scholarships and even a part-time job. Avoid loans as much as possible. Too many students graduate with a mountain of debt and first-jobs-out-of-college don’t pay as well as everyone hopes. Some scholarships are not for tuition but are for books and materials. This is no small expense, so don’t reject these as “not enough.”
- Get a job with tuition benefits. Your child can consider starting work at a company with a generous tuition-benefit policy. This might mean your child will work full-time and go to college part-time but if that’s the way it has to happen, then it’s silly to overlook this option. At the same time, you might consider working at a college yourself. Most colleges offer tuition-benefits for employees’ dependents. If one parent in your household is considering going back to work to fund your child’s college, going back to work at a college might be an excellent choice. Colleges need secretaries, IT professionals, public safety officers, and every other sort of worker, not just instructors.
- Start now. Fill out the FAFSA form – the universal form used by most scholarship-awarding organizations and colleges and by all Federally-funded programs. Your child can get this from his high school guidance counselor or from www.fafsa.ed.gov. Remember that need is not a guarantee of funding nor is lack of need an automatic stopper. But not looking for aid is a stopper. Start looking and start applying for aid early.
- Have a Plan B. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Figure out what you and your child will do if no money turns up. Will she live at home and work for a couple years to save up some cash? Will she work full-time and go to school part-time? At the same time, re-examine the decision to go to college right out of high school. While a college degree is certainly important and is the only reliable path to financial security, not all great jobs require college and not all kids are ready for college at age 18. Figure out together how to get the best experience out of the next four years, with or without college.