How to Lower the Cost of College Education
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How to Lower the Cost of College Education

With the rising cost of college education, the best time to start planning for your children's college education tuition is before birth. The money that you and your family pay toward college costs may well represent the single biggest financial investment that you make in your lifetime.

With the rising cost of college education, the best time to start planning for your children's college education tuition is before birth. But alas, you might be paying off your own college loans as you begin your own family. So let's presume that you have overlooked preparing for the college fund. Your child is now in high school. College hovers just a few years away. Prior to starting to figure out how to come up with the cash, let's see how much. College tuition rates have been increasing by 6 to 7 percent annually for the past few years. The increase for public and vocational schools has been less; for private schools, a lot more.

"The money that you and your family pay toward college costs may well represent the single biggest financial investment that you make in your lifetime (next to purchasing a home, perhaps)," according to the College Entrance Examination Board. Whether it's a good investment, only you and your child—and time—can tell. But it is a fact: Today's job market calls for higher educational standards of its work force. We'll help you take the squeeze off financing a college education.

Bring down Your Share

Financial aid officers like to believe they look at the big picture before they draw upon you to contribute. They'll check such things as parental income, student earnings, family net assets, and expenses. It's up to you to paint the picture black; within legal limits, naturally. Be sure to point out unusual situations, like heavy medical bills, a retired or disabled parent, or siblings in college at the same time. Now is the time to protect personal assets in things like individual retirement accounts. Join a salary reduction plan at work—like a 401(k) investment—to cut what the universities consider available income. Enlist a tax planner long before you take on the financial aid office to further cut down expected family contribution.

Smart College Shopping

Here are two don'ts to remember when looking at universities. Don't let your child apply to every school he or she fancies. Applications are pricy! Have your child study brochures in the high school guidance office or public library to pin down his or her choices. Don't reject expensive colleges. Some may be richly endowed, meaning they can offer a fat financial aid package.

The Two Kinds of Financial Aid

Planning helps you do two things: Squeeze the most out of your own resources and intensify the chances of having the right kind of financial aid. To help with your planning you must know that financial aid comes in two forms. The first is gift aid, which you do not pay back. This involves grants and scholarships. The second form is self-help aid, which you repay. College loans and work-study fall under this category.

Financial aid sources include the federal and state government, colleges themselves, and private organizations like banks. Aid may be granted depending on achievement, either scholastically or athletically, but most times it's based on need. Seldom is a university student given a full scholarship with no strings attached.

Look for College Financial Aid from Private Sources

Besides seeking aid from the college and government, you may investigate aid from private sources. Start by looking here:

- Parents' and students' employers or labor unions could have educational programs. Check if your child is eligible for scholarships, grants, or low-interest loans.

- Canvass social organizations that you belong to, be it religious or civic, to get aid. Expected prospects include 4-H clubs, Kiwanis and Jaycees, Girl and Boy Scouts, American Legion chapters, YMCAs and YWCAs, and chambers of commerce.

- If your daughter is set on being a journalist, doctor, or lawyer, request those particular associations.

- If you are a military veteran, or the child of one, look into benefits from the Veterans Administration.

- Hole up in the public library to do your own scholarship search for scholarships that might be little known but right up your alley. Never pay for this service from a private computerized search firm; you'll be charged dearly for information you can find yourself with a little extra effort.

Free Number for Federal Aid Info

If you have questions regarding application for federal student aid, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-333-INFO. Counselors can explain eligibility requisites, offer forms, check on your application, or adjust a report.

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