TEENAGERS AND COLLEGE
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Teenagers can be very demanding on a parent. Worrying becomes a way of life. Phrases like, "drive carefully" and "be home by midnight" become as common as "good morning." With college looming around the corner, more and more parents are adding the phrase "did you fill out that financial aid form yet?" With the average cost of college running around $6,824 a year for a four-year state university and $17,630 a year for a private college (not including books, transportation or miscellaneous expenses), financial aid and scholarships are a must even for parents who have been saving from the start.
For most parents, establishing a college fund sufficient to put one or more children through school is nearly impossible. If you've already started savings, congratulations! If you haven't, don't panic. It's never too late to start. In either case, the more informed you are with available financing options, the better off you'll be.
While teenagers are still in high school, parents and students alike can begin saving money for college. See that your child is enrolled in the classes that will lead to higher education. College preparatory classes can boost entrance exam scores, grades and, in some cases, eliminate up to a full semester of college with advanced placement credits.
Come junior year of high school, students start taking various aptitude tests; the scores of which are shared with the colleges specified by the student. These scores are also shared with national scholarship corporations. One such program, the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) offers more than $40 million in scholarships based on a combination of financial need and student scores.
Grades aren't the only criterion that colleges and scholarship foundations consider. Extra-circular activities do count toward the selection process. Sports, theater, volunteer work, part-time jobs and other community involvement activities can all increase chances for acceptance and scholarships.
Thousands of dollars are available in scholarships. Check your local book store for guides to scholarships. Applications take attention to detail but are worth it. Almost every application requires a written essay, however, so consider the amount of the award and the time necessary to apply. Also evaluate how much money you and your child will be expected to contribute. This is called the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) and it is calculated using the income and assets of both you and your child.
Become familiar with the various types of federal, state and private aid (pay heed to deadlines). Your child's school can help here. The U.S. Department of Education distributes a free guide, The Student Guide to Financial Aid, through high schools or you can order a copy from the Federal Student Aid Information Center, P.O. Box 84, Washington, D.C. 20044-0084.
If scholarships and savings won't cover all expenses, consider a loan. Work with your financial institution or the college your child will attend on low-interest student loans. Other options include work-study programs, which allow students to earn extra money on campus. Obviously summer jobs remain an important source of money for college. Additionally, some schools offer a set per-semester fee for full-time students, allowing the student to enroll for as little as 12 credit hours or as many as 18 for the same price. If your student can handle the class load, encourage enrollment into the maximum amount of credit hours offered.
If money is still an obstacle, the best value may be taking the first two years at your local community college. Most college will accept these credits if students transfer for their junior and senior years. But check into that before choosing the classes to make certain all the credits are accepted.