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Parents’ Guide to College Financial Aid

So how will you afford four (or more) years of higher education? Ever heard of FAFSA? If not, consider this your formal introduction because you two are going to become quite close over the course of your child’s matriculation. The FAFSA, which stands for the Free Application for Student Aid, must be completed each year your child is in college and determines exactly how much money you are eligible to receive through federal assistance programs and grants, how much you can borrow through federal loans and how much you may need to secure through private lending agencies annually.

We’re not going to lie to you, the FAFSA can be a little intimidating for those filling it out for the first time but it will give you the best overall understanding of what you’ll receive from Uncle Sam and what you’ll have to dig out of your own pockets. Here’s a closer look. If the numbers don’t crunch the way you anticipated they would, don’t forget about grants and scholarships – there are literally thousands of them that your child could win for being a good student, community leader or left-handed vegetarian. (Yes, we said left-handed vegetarian. And we were serious.)

Loans vs. Grants vs. Scholarships

Your parents probably stressed the value of a dollar to you on a daily basis and while it may have seemed like overkill then, you probably thank them every day for the constant reminder. Not only have you used that advice to pad your own accounts but have no doubt put some money aside for your child’s education; unless you are extremely well off or have recently won the lottery, however, these savings won’t go very far when you factor in tuition, room and board and other educational expenses. Simply put, you’re going to need some help in the finance department and loans, grants and scholarships will help you through…but what option is best?

A “Good Deal” Goes Beyond the Numbers

What constitutes a “good deal” in terms of education? Sure, the cost will play a factor but that’s not the only issue to consider. Does the college offer your child’s intended major? Where did the faculty graduate from? Are the residence halls up to par? Is the food edible? These are all questions you and your child should answer before committing to attend a college. How? Do your research.

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Photo courtesy of Rice University

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