There have been many attention-grabbing stories in the media lately that have parents and high school students concerned about the cost of a college education. Some of these may make it seem as though a quality education is out of reach for most families today, but that is not necessarily the case. It is possible to realize the dream of a college education with a solid understanding of the college financial aid process. Don’t be intimidated by your first glance at the upfront costs of college tuition and expenses. They don’t take financial aid into consideration. Most college websites have a net price calculator that provides estimated net price information based on a student’s individual circumstances and what students paid in a previous year. This is not a guarantee of financial aid, but it’s a great place to start and is only a general guideline of the aid you might expect. Don’t wait until your child graduates from college to figure out whether you’ve made the right financial moves. Get a good grasp on the anticipated expenses to graduate from a prospective college, and the expected amount of financial aid over those years.

Getting the most from college financial aid

Any difference will need to be covered by savings or student loans. Project future income for your chosen career field now, to determine whether it will be enough to repay any student loans you might need to take out. Remember the old saying that, “free is always best?” It works in college financial aid, too, but what it means in this situation is that you always want to maximize the amount of aid that does not have to be repaid. College financial aid comes in several forms. Scholarships and grants are amounts of money that are applied directly to the costs of college attendance. They do not have to be repaid. Grants may come from the federal government, the state where you live, or the college itself. Scholarships include money that is awarded to a student which can be used in any way deemed appropriate. They may be awarded based on merit, affiliation, athletic capability, or many other criteria. Students and parents should constantly seek to obtain as many scholarships as possible. Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. The program encourages community service work and work related to the student’s course of study. These are loans which will need to be repaid once the student graduates or stops attending college. They may be provided by the federal government or private lenders. Getting too deeply into debt before graduation is bad. Students need to learn right from their freshman year about credit, budgeting, spending, controlling expenses, and projecting income. All of these skills will prove helpful in college and in life.