The cost of college is rising every year. But even as the sticker price goes up, discounts in the form of grants, scholarships and tuition waivers are also increasing. Planning your child’s college funding is not just a matter of putting money into savings. Considering you might be expected to pay $23,000 a year or more in out-of-pocket expenses for your teenager’s college tuition, fees, books, room and board, you may find saving that much to be an onerous task - and for good reason. Thankfully, you have a lot of options right at your fingertips, if you are adequately prepared.
Federal Financial Aid
The first task you should accomplish is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form goes over the student’s financial situation and that of his/her parents. It's always a good idea to set aside some time with your teenager to complete this form together. The government expects that you will contribute to your teenager’s college education plans. Before you fill out the application, have these documents handy:
- Social Security number
- Federal tax returns and income information for all parties (student and parents)
- Records of any other income
- Bank statements
To make the process easier, the U.S. Department of Education allows you to obtain a PIN number that you and your student can use to sign documents electronically. It can take a few days to receive your pin, so you will want to request one in advance. The FAFSA process will determine if your student will be eligible for all federal grants (and some college grants), which are funds for education that you do not have to pay back. Even if s/he is not, the federal government offers a number of student loans. Your child may be eligible for subsidized loans, which accrue no interest as long as s/he is registered with a minimum number of units. But there are also unsubsidized loans, available for students and their parents.
Non-Federal Financial Aid
Some colleges also require that you complete a College Scholarship Services (CSS) PROFILE or an institutional financial aid form. The PROFILE is administered by the College Board, and is intended to give greater information to private institutions about your finances. The CSS profile application requires more detailed information than the FAFSA, with specifics about income and expenses for both students and their parents. You will need all the information you readied for the FAFSA, and also some data about how you plan to file for the current year. The benefit to completing a CSS profile is that you can use a single form to apply for non-federal financial aid and scholarships from over 400 various colleges and universities. The CSS profile does charge a fee. It is $25 to complete the profile and send it to one college or university of your choice. If you request a report sent to any subsequent colleges or universities, the cost is $16 and may be elected at any time.
These major national systems are the easiest way to open up the world of financial aid for you and your student. But do not forget to look locally. For the schools your child selected for applications, arrange to speak to a counselor or a financial aid administrator. They may know of scholarships and grants that are local to the community or the school itself. They may also be able to make specific recommendations based on your student’s demographic and school record.
Whenever you have questions about obtaining financial aid for your teenager, you should always ask for help. Visit the College Planning Center of Rhode Island for more information and advice for your family.