How College Financial Aid Works

Financial Aid Tips

  • Students looking for jobs online.
    Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
    Paying for college isn't all that difficult -- as long you plan wisely.
    Start saving for college now. This is good advice for parents and students because the more you save, the less you have to borrow.
  • It's not the college's sticker price that matters. All that really matters is the net cost of education. In most cases, there is a difference between the family's out-of-pocket expense and the college's sticker price.
  • Use time to its fullest advantage. For most families, college is the second largest expense they will ever incur. Most families pay for their homes over as many as 30 years -- consider paying for college over six to eight years, or longer.
  • As your student creates the list of schools to which he or she will apply, don't eliminate a school just because it's expensive. A great deal of assistance is available, and you may be surprised at how much you or your student receives.
  • Parents, get your child involved early in paying for college. By saving during high school and by working during college, students can make an important contribution toward supporting their educational costs.
  • As a family, create a strategy that fits your particular set of circumstances. Remember -- there is no best way to pay for college.
  • Keep educational costs in perspective. College costs may be going up, but recent studies indicate that those who earn a bachelor's degree on average will have lifetime earnings approximately 60 percent higher than those who stop at a high school diploma. The return on your investment can be extraordinary.

Here are a few final thoughts:

  • If you create a family strategy through which you can start planning early, if you take advantage of the wide variety of programs available during college, and if you are willing to borrow when necessary and reasonable, then the college you deserve can be available.
  • Why not view the financial aid officer at your college as a resource? These professionals will be pleased to help you think through the maze of payment options available for your consideration. They are also good at helping students budget their expenses while in college. Maybe, just maybe, the aid officer can help you find a grant to replace the loan for which you might otherwise have to apply.

Parents, keep this in mind: If you don't do all you can to ensure that your child is well-educated, he or she may come back home and live with you. That, if nothing else, should scare you into action!

For more information on paying for college, take a look at the links on the next page.

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About the Author

Photo courtesy Duke Photography

Jim Belvin is the director of financial aid at Duke University in Durham, NC. He has served in various leadership capacities in several professional organizations, including the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators. A trustee of The College Board, he also sits on advisory boards for the Sallie Mae Fund and the USA Group. He is a popular speaker on the topic of college financial aid and an advocate for strong student assistance programs.