My son Alex and I are preparing for his first year at the University of Colorado at Denver. Paying for college can feel challenging and overwhelming, but it’s absolutely possible. Here’s how we did it:
- Start Early
We visited colleges during Alex’s sophomore year, and by junior year, he found a favorite. While visiting colleges with your child, stop by the financial aid office or just give them a call. They will give you a good idea about typical costs and answer questions about transferring credits. We learned that the University of Colorado at Denver offers a discount for residents of neighboring states. That’s helped us make it work.
- Determine the Cost
Once you find a college, determine the cost. Remember to consider not just tuition and fees, but also books, transportation and other expenditures. It might sound like a lot to keep track of, but free resources like the Sallie Mae® College Planning Calculator can help. Some colleges also offer net price calculators to help you estimate the costs.
- Start Simple
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on or soon after Oct. 1. The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal financial aid. Some of that aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis so it’s best to submit the application as early as possible.
- Apply for Scholarships
Make sure your child applies for scholarships early and often. Start searching online in August of their senior year to meet early deadlines. Services like Sallie Mae and Fastweb offer great scholarship search engines. Alex worked hard to maintain a good GPA because he knew academics are so important for scholarships, but many scholarships are based on other factors. Set a weekly goal and don’t get discouraged. Alex completed many applications and often received the response: “great letter, but…” Don’t give up! Alex added the Make College Happen Challenge to his list and made an animated video about college planning. He placed 3rd nationally! Nothing is out of reach, so if you see a scholarship you like—have your child apply!
- Parting Advice
There are plenty of other ways for students to save, plan and pay for college. But the key is to start with a plan. At least, that’s what we did. And remember, this is just an example of our experience. The important thing is to create a personal plan of action to make college happen.
Veronica and Alex Gomez are a mother and son currently navigating the paying for college process. Alex recently won Sallie Mae’s Make College Happen ChallengeSM with his animated video submission detailing how he plans to pay for his college.
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