When your child opens a college acceptance letter, they’re also opening a floodgate of emotions. Whether it’s the despair of rejection or the elation of acceptance, there’s no middle ground when it comes to such a pivotal moment in your kid’s future. But for parents who aren’t financially prepared to fund their child’s tuition, there tends to be one emotion clouding the entire college application process: fear.
That fear is completely understandable. No one wants to hold a child back from reaching their full potential, and the thought of letting them down at such a crucial moment can be too much to bear. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to make ends meet and fund the college experience of their dreams. It won’t be easy, but the payoff will be incalculable.
Look at More Scholarships
If your child has applied to a college, they’ve likely been considered for many of the school’s scholarships automatically. But there’s no harm in asking to make sure. You can also contact other departments, besides admissions, to see if there’s other money left on the table. Contact the college’s alumni association for your area – they may offer scholarships to local students interested in attending their alma mater.
Private scholarships not associated with a certain school are also available. Sites like FastWeb, GoodCall and FinAid list scholarships based on talent, interest and geographic location. The right combination of scholarships can make the difference between graduating college with six figures in student loans and being a debt-free graduate.
Work During School
Working during school is one of the best ways to fund a college education. Your child can work through the university’s work study program. If you applied for the FAFSA, then your child was automatically considered for work-study. However colleges have limited spots for work-study, this is based on a first-come, first-served basis.
Working off-campus can also provide access to more opportunities. While a part-time job is unlikely to cover the total cost of tuition, it can offset rent, groceries and textbooks.
Attend Community College First
If your child is accepted and wants to attend a school that is, or seems, too unaffordable, they can choose to defer enrollment for a year or two and take classes at a local community college. This will allow them to build up general education requirements at a much cheaper price.
Before choosing this route, contact the university and see if they’ll accept credits from the community college. There’s no point in taking those classes if they won’t transfer successfully! Your child should also verify that their spot in that university will still be there while they attend community college.
In addition, doing well in community college may make them more eligible for other scholarships and grants.
Find More Loans
If you’ve already applied for financial aid through the FAFSA and don’t have enough funds to cover the tuition cost, it’s time to go private. While private loans have a bad rap, they may be the only way to fill the gap between how much a college costs and how much your financial aid package is worth.
Sites like Credible.com can give you various offers so you can see what’s out there. It’s important to find a loan that doesn’t have hidden fees, high interest rates or unreasonable terms.
Parents can also apply for loans to help their kids. The Parent PLUS loan is the only federal student loan option granted to parents. If you qualify, you’ll be able to borrow the amount needed for tuition payments. Parent PLUS loan candidates must have a clean credit history; their eligibility will be determined when they fill out the FAFSA.
Parents should be aware that while these loans are for their child’s education, they will be in their own name and will reflect on their credit report. If there’s any uncertainty on their part as to whether they can repay the loan, they should reconsider. Remember, student loans are almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy.
Don’t Go Overboard
It can be tempting to want the best for your child, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your own financial future to do so. Some parents borrow from their 401ks or withdraw their retirement funds to pay for their child’s college education.
When in doubt, consult a financial advisor before draining your nest egg so your child can attend a particular school. Remember, your child will have the rest of his or her life to pay back the loans, but you likely have a limited amount of time left to save for retirement. Some parents are also tempted to tap their home equity or take out a second mortgage. Again, consider if you can afford the risk before taking out that kind of loan.