If you have a child planning to go to college, you’re likely aware of how expensive college is and that financial aid options are available. Millions of students include financial aid as part of their strategy for college savings. In 2016-17, full-time undergraduate students received an average of more than $14,400 each in financial aid, including more than $8,440 in grants and more than $4,620 in federal loans.1
But making sense of financial aid options requires some effort, says Eric Warren, an investment relationship manager with The Private Client Group of U.S. Bank. Warren’s family recently went through the financial aid discovery process for his son, and he recommends families work with their children to develop a checklist to ensure all financial options are researched.
“It’s important to start exploring financial aid options early in high school, even if they are not sure which school they want to attend or what they want to study,” Warren says.
Take the following steps during your child’s high school years if you plan on applying for financial aid to fund their college education.
Warren recommends that students take their first steps toward saving for college by talking with their guidance counselors during their sophomore year of high school. He suggests meeting with college representatives who visit high schools to talk about what programs their respective schools offer. Students should ask them about anticipated tuition and room and board costs, allowing you to compare prices early on. The more you and your student know about how much the first, second and third choice schools cost, the better you can plan for funding.
Some scholarship and grant applications are due during the junior year of high school. With a quick Google search, you can find all sorts of scholarship and grant opportunities, and Warren recommends having your child apply for every one he or she qualifies for. This takes time and can seem like the workload of an additional class. But remember, the money your child receives in scholarships or grants (in contrast to loans) won’t need to be paid back in the future with interest.
Finally, as your child is wrapping up his or her high school career, connect with the financial aid office at the college or university they plan to attend. As Warren learned while his son was researching his financial aid options, many colleges have recent graduates staffing their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) offices — graduates who have recently been through the process of figuring out their options and are primed to give feedback on what steps to take on saving for college. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more answers you receive, the better decisions your family can make about how to finance your child’s college education.
“There is plenty of help out there,” Warren says. “You just need to know who to ask.”
There’s more to learn. Continue reading about funding a college education.