Friday, June 10, 2005

Ways to Pay for College - Scholarship thoughts

Because Tuition for college is climbing so rapidly, I felt compelled to deliver this timely information to parents in the same boat that I am in (kids and future college expenses!).

Tips on landing Scholarships
Start early (real early), be relentless and don't stop looking for free money even if you're already enrolled, and knock on every door

How early do you need to start thinking about financing higher education?
A: Around eighth grade. When you start earlier, you'll find programs for younger kids that have scholarship money attached. For example, you might do a science or history project, send in your results to a group [holding some sort of competition], and get money in the form of a $1,000 U.S. savings bond. But it's never too late to start. Once you get into college, in fact, a whole new class of scholarships becomes available as you choose an academic major or career path.

Q: What can parents of young children do to save for college?A: Over the past decade, the average increase in college costs has averaged around 6% per year. Investing in a 529 college savings plan or the Florida Prepaid Plan are great ways set aside money.

Q: What's the No. 1 piece of advice for financing higher education?A: There are millions of dollars awarded every year from corporations, foundations, associations, industry groups, and individual schools. You need to approach these organizations. It's up to you to find out about all sorts of help -– from the opportunity to earn credits for college by taking certain standardized tests, like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, to financial aid offered by individual institutions.

Q: What's the biggest mistake people make in paying for college?A: One huge mistake people make is that they apply for one or two scholarships and then they stop. How many resume's did you send out before you landed your first job out of college? Something to think about.

Q: Is it a myth that you have to be supersmart or athletic to win money for school?A: Many have minimal requirement, 2.75 GPA and once you meet that minimum bar, the judges don't look at your grades at all. So, you could have a 2.76 or a 3.9, and it wouldn't make a difference. Sometimes, students with really high GPAs have trouble filling out scholarship applications because they tend to rely on their scores alone, and that's not enough. Show how you demonstrated leadership within a club, rather than just listing your affiliation. You want to paint a portrait of who you are, not just what you've done. You do that by making your applications intensely personal and as unique as possible. That helps to make an emotional connection with scholarship judges. They award scholarships to people, not to résumés.

Q: What pitfalls should people avoid when taking out loans? A: Most parents and students pick a lender from their college's preferred lender list. Those lenders don't necessarily offer the best deal to students. They're just the ones that are the easiest for the college to manage, because the partnership allows them to process the paperwork more effectively. That's why it pays to shop around for student loans, rather than just picking one from the preferred list. Also, consider a lender that offers repayment benefits. Some lenders will reduce your loan interest rate a point or two after you have made consecutive, on-time payments. Others will reduce it another quarter-point if you agree to make an electronic-funds transfer directly from your bank account each month.