Right now, parents are struggling not only with taxes, but with determining HOW to meet the ever-rising cost of college. College costs (sometimes known as the Cost of Attendance) include tuition and fees, room and board, textbooks, personal expenses (think pizza night, movies, and laundry), and travel costs.
Two types of money exist to pay a student's college costs: free money (grants and scholarships) and self-help money (loans, work-study, and savings). Money comes from many sources: the government, community organizations, the colleges and universities, mom and dad, relatives, and the student.
To access the government money pot, a family must complete a FAFSA, the Free Application for Student Aid. This form asks personal and family questions as well as information from the parents' tax form, the student's tax form, the parents' savings and assets, and the student's savings and assets. The student must also list all colleges and universities to which they have applied. For families with more than one student attending college or university at the same time, a FAFSA must be filed for each individual student. This form is only available on-line. Search for the term FAFSA. Make sure the URL ends in.gov. Otherwise you may be going to a paying site.
Community organizations offer money through scholarship applications. Like college applications, they have deadlines. Many local scholarship opportunities will be listed through the high school guidance office, but some are listed in the local newspapers as well. Most scholarship applications require activity lists and essays.
The colleges and universities offer scholarships, sometimes know as tuition discounts, based on the type of student the college or university wants to attract to their school. Some colleges use the admissions application form as the scholarship application; others require still another separate scholarship application form. Make sure you check to see which is required!
Mom and dad and other relatives can contribute the cost of college, but the parents and other well-wishers need to remember that the education truly belongs to the student. People value that for which they have to work. Allow your student the privilege of paying for as much of the cost of college as they can.
After all the forms have been filed and all the financial aid offers have been received, the student and family determine the college or university that best meets the student's needs. Be sure to consider academic load, extra-curricular activities, and financial implications (remember loans have to be paid back). Then the scramble to meet the cost of college continues.
Additional funding can be found in restructuring debt, selling assets, or eliminating unnecessary daily costs. Many families have found extra money through brown bagging, ending the "latte and biscotti" break, reducing gasoline consumption, and eliminating the cost of having a student living at home (though you do have to pay living expenses at college, this is usually calculated into the cost of attendance in the room and board and personal expenses categories).
The paper work can be overwhelming. The deadlines can be confusing, but with a little education and lots of planning, paying for college can be achieved when parents and students work together.