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Start early to explore college costs and savings options


Wednesday, September 05, 2012
While it is impossible to predict every college expense, you may get a better idea of your total cost for higher education once you begin to narrow down your college options and factor in the additional costs of attending particular schools.

In addition to tuition, room and board and textbook costs, Mapping Your Future, a public service college and career resource, suggests you consider many other expenses not directly related to education. For example, it costs money to do laundry, eat out with friends and have health insurance. If you plan on attending college far from home, you also need to think about how often you will be going home and factor in the cost of transportation. If you decide to live off campus, you need to think about the cost of commuting, including gas and car insurance, as well as the monthly utilities you will have to pay.

Once you and your parents add up all your potential college costs, your first reaction may be panic. However, there are a number of ways to make earning a degree more affordable. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Web site provides detailed checklists for each of the four years of high school so students and their parents can start exploring savings and financial aid options as early as their freshman year.

Freshman year

The checklist for freshmen recommends that students learn about managing their money, while parents should begin adding to their child's college savings account on a regular basis.

Sophomore year

During their second year of high school, students are advised to learn about the various forms of financial assistance, including scholarships, grants, loans and work-study programs. Parents should attend any college or financial aid nights the high school may be hosting.

Junior year

In the fall of their junior year, the Web site advises students to take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test so they can become eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Come spring, they should begin searching for scholarship opportunities. At the same time, parents need to be on top of their family's financial situation so they know if they can afford college.

Senior year

Once January 1 has passed, students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as they can. During this time period, they should complete any remaining scholarship applications. It is also important for students to keep their grades up until graduation, as a poor performance can sometimes mean the loss of a scholarship or even an acceptance to a college.ADNFCR-16000756-ID-800856455-ADNFCR

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