It’s back to school time! If you have high school students, especially juniors or seniors, then you know how busy the next few months are going to be to get them ready for college: SAT/ACT exams, applications, essays, financial aid plans, choosing a school, waiting for the acceptance letter, deciding on a dorm or apartment, and the hopeful hunt for scholarships. Paying for college can be a big hurdle for many families, especially during these tough economic times.
Here are a few tips to make college a reality without breaking the bank:
A – Apply for scholarships!
There are many of them out there, just waiting to be given away. There are a number of paid and free web sites where you can find scholarship information, such as www.fastweb.com. Talk to your high school counselors because they usually have drawers and files full of local organizations which offer money, as well. Going back to school at an older age? Not to worry – you can qualify for many scholarships, too!
There are a number of bizarre scholarships available, including ones for being tall, being left-handed, even drinking milk. Many scholarships require essays, so conquer the applications one day/essay at a time. Some scholarships are funded by people who had to overcome some kind of disability in life. You can find many of those at www.collegegold.com/scholarships/unusualscholarships. There is a fun annual contest sponsored by Duct Tape where the company gives scholarships to high school students who create the best prom outfits out of duct tape!
B – Find cheap textbooks
These days, textbooks are ridiculously expensive. CSN student Kevin Stinson buys his textbooks at a discount by shopping at www.half.com, www.textbooks.com, or Amazon.com.
C – Consider your career path
If you're interested in military service, the US Army and Air Force offer a free college education with some after-graduation service required. Talk to your parents to see if their companies offer grants, loans or scholarships to employees. Find out if your parents receive a special alumni discount from their alma maters.
D – Find an apartment
Dorm living is great for the freshman year as you try to get adjusted to college life. After that, living off campus is usually less expensive. You can offer to do yard or home maintenance to receive a discount in rent. Many duplexes and small homes in college towns are owned by "absentee" owners living out of state, so they'd be happy to have a hard-working student keep an eye on their property. Check out www.campusrent.com to start your apartment search online. Invite your friends to join you and you could get a free month's rent or referral fee!
Brown bagging it is usually less expensive than any other way of dining, but students often get discount cards to eat on campus. Some campus food plans are pricey and restrictive, so be sure to check the fine print. Student ID cards can often save you money at local restaurants, theaters, museums and other venues, so be sure to carry it when you go out.
F – Get financial aid
FAFSA applications are long and obnoxious, but submitting a FAFSA is one of the best ways to save money on tuition, resulting in possible grants, lower student loans, or priority for the college student. My big tip: get started early.
G – Find good professors
Get the best learning experience you can by signing up for the best rated professors on campus. Kelly Johnson, a student at UNLV used the web site www.ratemyprofessors.com to learn about her teachers before signing up for their classes.
H – Have fun, but be smart
College can be a blast, but make sure you're going to graduate with a degree that will lead to a career. While a degree in underwater basket weaving would be fun, think about the end goal. Unfortunately, the world will only pay you what it thinks you're worth, how talented you are at performing a service, and how difficult it will be to replace you. Find your passion and specialty and then make yourself marketable!
For moms and dads who are just a bit envious of their children’s opportunity to learn new things at school, you can find all kinds of free college courses online at sites like Academic Earth and Free Video Lectures.
If anyone is interested in Entrepreneurship and learning more about what it takes to own or run a business, check out these podcasts from Stanford University and Harvard Business School.