The cost of a college education may seem overwhelming, but there are some things you can do to help make college more affordable:
- Stay close to home. Many students are more comfortable and perform better in the smaller setting of a community college during their first year or two. The curriculum is often very similar to (or virtually the same as) that at four-year schools, with the added benefit of smaller class sizes.
- Shop around. Obviously, there are extremely wide fluctuations in the cost of various colleges. Each year, publications like the Fiske Guide to Colleges release lists of their "best buy" universities–study them carefully to look for options that are more affordable while still delivering a quality education.
- Investigate all your financial aid options. Don't leave any potential financial aid stone unturned. Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which you can find online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Also look into Federal Pell Grants, the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program, and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).
- Beat the scholarship bushes–hard. There's more scholarship money out there than most people realize, and not just for straight-A students. Check with social organizations like the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, as well as with your employer, union, and religious group. Scholarships sponsored by organizations like these are often poorly advertised, so there's less competition. Two good places to start are www.fastweb.com and www.collegequest.com.
- Start early. It doesn't hurt to start researching scholarship and financial aid opportunities as early as your child's freshman year of high school. And keep looking even after your child has entered college–there are many scholarships available to students who are already in school.
- Put your child on the "three-year plan." There's no rule stating that it has to take four years to earn a bachelor's degree. By taking summer classes and adding an extra course or two each semester, many students graduate college in three years, or even less. You and your child should be prepared, however, for the heavy workload and year-round education schedule this will entail.