What do I need to do to ensure my child is prepared to enter college? Whether college is just around the corner or years away, these checklists are a great starting point to guide you as you start to prepare for the path to college. Each checklist has items for your child and for you!

Cost of College

Paying for college can be one of your biggest worries as a parent. Horror stories from the news about student loan debt can make it seem scary to even consider student loans or other financial aid. GOOD NEWS! When you are knowledgeable about the financial aid process, you can ensure that you access the resources available to you, while also guarding against unnecessary financial risk. Here are some things to know:

First, financial aid for college can take several forms. Financial aid can look like scholarships, grants, secured and unsecured loans, federal aid, state aid, 549 savings accounts and even tax credits to name just a few.

Let’s start with Federal Student Aid!

Federal aid is funding for education that is administered through the federal government. There are several types of aid that your family may qualify for. This video is a great overview of the types of aid.

In order to receive Federal aid, you must fill out a document called the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Notice that it says FREE application. You should NEVER pay to fill out or submit this form. . This is a free application and service to you. This application will ask for information related to your family income. This information is used to determine the amount of aid your child might be eligible for.

Some families qualify for grants. Grants are types of aid that never have to be paid back. Yeah! The most common type of federal aid grant is a Pell Grant.

Some families will qualify for subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Don’t be afraid of the word loan! These loans are not like a car loan or a mortgage. Federal student loans are created to be low or even no interest and are specific to those who wish to further their education.

As a reminder, in order to know if your child is eligible for Federal Aid, you must complete the FAFSA form. There is a timeline for which you need to apply to ensure that your funding comes in on time! Usually the form is available in December for the next year. For example, if your child planned to start school in August of 2024, you would want to fill out the FAFSA form starting in December of 2023 to ensure you leave time for your application to be processed.

State and Local Aid

State Aid
In addition to financial aid from the federal government, many states have specific programs to support those who want to pursue a college education. Each state has their own eligibility requirements, for example the aid may only apply to in-state colleges and universities or you may have to apply before a specific point in time to be eligible. There are two places to look for aid in your state:

  • The National Association of Student Aid Administrators has put together a terrific website to connect you directly with information in your state. Simply click on the state where you currently live to learn more about the resources available in your state.
  • Search on the web for <Your State Name> Department of Education or <Your State Name> Department of Higher Education. Depending on your state, additional information may be listed with either of these agencies.

Local Aid
Local aid can take several forms.

First, ask the college or university financial aid office for any available scholarships or grants for which your child might be eligible. Scholarships and grants are often based on grade point averages, community service, or special talent or ability. Anyone pursuing a degree in Music Education should ask specifically about the process to audition for a music scholarship.

Next, look around your local community! Many local scholarships are available to students within a specific community. For example, does your Rotary Club or Kiwanis Club offer scholarships? Does your church or place of worship offer scholarships? Often a simple web search using terms like <Your City Name> college scholarships can lead to some results. Search places like your local community foundation which may have scholarships available as well.

As a reminder, you should NEVER pay to search for or apply for a scholarship. If asked to pay to use a resource or to apply, simply remember that these sources may be trying to take advantage of your situation. Do your homework on any resource before paying to use their tools to ensure you will be getting what you need.

Special Resources

There are also special resources available for people and families who meet certain eligibility requirements.

Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a program that will forgive (pay off) your student loans if you agree to work in certain fields or in certain geographic areas. Good news! Educators qualify for PSLF in most cases. PSLF is applied AFTER you graduate and can document you have a job in a qualified field or area.

Tax Credits and Savings Accounts are another great way to reduce the amount your child will pay to go to college. Every family is different in what types of tax credits they may qualify for. All families are encouraged to see advice on filing. Many people leave money behind thinking they they aren’t eligible when they are. It’s worth it to file all the forms to see what your family might qualify for. Besides tax credits, families can also start saving early with savings accounts especially designed for education expenses.

Finally, there are special resources available to military members and their families. Again, every circumstance is different but if you, as a parent are or have been in the military, or your child is planning to pursue a path to college through military service, knowing your benefits can be very helpful in planning on how to pay for your education.

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