Which sports team do you think will have a better chance of winning the championship: One that’s been preparing and strategizing for years, or the team that was put together in a few months? The answer seems obvious, and yet many people don’t realize just how critical it is to start planning early on for their children’s college costs. The reality is that this could be one of the biggest expenses of your life! If you haven’t been able to save enough or if your investments haven’t performed, then you will need to look at other options.
One possible source of funding is scholarships, and the good news is that scholarships are everywhere! Are you a single mother? Is your child an avid skateboarder, or does he or she have a unique name? There is a seemingly endless supply of scholarships, some based on financial need or merit and others on personal interest or demographics. With some effort, you are likely to find at least a few scholarships that are worth applying to.
Tip 1: Start Early
Of course, with so many options, you need to take a systematic and organized approach to searching for scholarships, and you need to start early. As soon as your child’s freshman year of high school, start familiarizing yourself with the scholarship application process and the websites devoted to helping you find them. Not only will starting early help you avoid stress later on, it will give you the opportunity to structure some of your child’s activities around any specific criteria provided. This will increase your odds of being awarded that major scholarship!
Tip 2: Scholarships are a Family Business
But don’t just do this on your own: Involve your kids! If they’re anything like mine, they are much more web-savvy than we are and could probably teach us a thing or two about finding scholarships on the internet. Be upfront and explain the necessity of the process, and then treat it like a business. That’s right: Have goals, schedule regular meetings, and hold each other responsible for finding scholarships and applying on time. Our children spend so much time texting, hanging out with their friends, on the computer, and playing video games; instead, ask them to devote 10 percent of this leisure time to scholarship searches and hold them accountable for this time. By being proactive and organized, you can avoid the stress of trying to do everything at the last minute and missing out on opportunities.
Tip 3: Show Your Child What She’s Aiming For!
To help keep them excited, start taking your child on college visits at the beginning of high school, when you begin searching for scholarships, so they can see what they’re striving for. This experience will also provide a good foundation for starting the college application process later on. My daughter just started ninth grade, and this summer we took a trip to visit Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard Square. Because it’s so early, we were able to be relaxed and enjoy the start of our college planning!
Tip 4: Take a Holistic Approach to Choosing Schools
Approach your college applications strategically as well. Remember: Just because a school is ranked #1, it doesn’t mean it’s going to provide the best educational experience for your child. That status school could also put you in major debt! There are plenty of great schools that aren’t at the top of the rankings, and they may also provide significant financial aid or merit scholarship opportunities. How can you find out about a school’s generosity? There’s a fantastic tool on Collegeboard that can help. From the homepage, type the school’s name into the search box and, once you’ve arrived at the school’s profile, click on “Cost and Financial Aid.” This page will give you a wealth of information about the extent of needs-based and merit assistance the school provides. Focus on this issue and on the type of learning environment your child will encounter. From there, apply to the schools that offer both the best value and the best experience. Don’t get caught up in the brand name frenzy!
When you put together your lists of schools, try to have at least a few schools in each of these categories: The “Wish List”, which will be more difficult to get into; the realistic list, for which your child is a good competitor; and the safe schools, which are extremely likely to admit your child. This will help you to prevent putting all your eggs in one basket and will provide a framework for seeking and comparing funding packages.
Tip 5: Be Strategic About Financial Aid
As you finalize the list, keep in mind that issues such as gender statistics can affect the type of aid offered, as the university may be trying to increase the number of boys or girls. Also, never underestimate the school’s endowment: While many people think that private schools are always more expensive, they are also more likely to tap into endowments to offer competitive aid packages.
Finally, your child may also want to consider transferring into a four-year university after spending two years at a community college. This route can save you an enormous amount of money, and many universities specify which courses your child should take in order to merit a transfer. Remember, graduation day will be the same great experience, and your child’s degree will not mention that he or she was a transfer student!
Tip 6: Have Fun
As a final note, keep in mind that this should be fun. This is an extremely exciting time for you and your child, and it’s a chance to teach them a vital lesson about preparation and avoiding debt.
Need some help getting started? Here are some websites that you may find helpful!
For scholarships at Collegeboard, search here: Collegeboard Scholarships
As you expand your search and find other websites that can help, remember to avoid sites that charge you to search for scholarships.
To learn about retirement savings, download my free eBook, “10 Tips You Need to Know About Your IRA Rollover.” This short book is packed with critical information that will help you make the right decisions about your retirement savings.
Written by Bradford Pine
Bradford Pine Wealth Group – New York City Financial Advisors
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