CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Are you preparing your children for higher education? If so, you are likely experiencing one or more of the many various stages of panic, with questions such as, “Do I have enough money?”

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One of the major factors in choosing a college or university is the ability and process of obtaining funds for your child’s desired education.

Here’s a guide to help you along the way. 

Start early!

Research can begin as early as middle school, eliminating the need to make final decisions immediately. 

Begin by researching the various higher education options available, including colleges, universities, vocational schools and online programs.
Identify the specific degree or program your child would like to pursue and the institutions that offer those programs.
Consider concurrent enrollment and college credit classes available at the beginning of your child’s freshman year in high school.

Create a budget and financial plan

Develop a realistic budget that takes into account tuition, fees, books, housing, transportation and other living expenses.
Explore cost-saving strategies, such as living off-campus, using public transportation or purchasing used textbooks. 
Community colleges and certification programs also offer more affordable alternatives to traditional four-year institutions. There are multiple resources and tuition comparison calculators that can help you compare tuition expenses at various schools. For example, in many cases, attending a two-year program initially can save thousands of dollars.
Consider competency-based education as another option. Competency-based education allows your child to accelerate learning and gain credit while simultaneously employed.

Investigate financial aid options 

One of the primary avenues for mitigating the financial strain of higher education is through financial aid. 

Look into the different types of financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, loans and work-study programs. Each program has its own eligibility criteria, application processes and terms.
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or any other relevant financial aid applications. This will help determine your child’s eligibility for federal and state financial aid programs. 
Ensure you and your child understand interest rates, repayment plans and any grace periods when taking out loans.
Federal loans often offer more favorable terms and flexible repayment options.

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Apply for scholarships and grants

Many scholarships are merit-based, considering academic achievements, extracurricular activities and community involvement. Websites like Fastweb and College Board’s Scholarship Search make it easier for students to identify scholarships aligned with their qualifications and aspirations.

Research and apply for scholarships and grants from various sources, including academic institutions, private organizations and community groups. Many institutions, such as Scholarship Universe, offer centralized applications for scholarships. 
Keep track of application deadlines and requirements. Tailor your child’s applications to highlight his or her achievements and align them with the criteria of each scholarship.

While the cost of higher education may seem daunting, a myriad of financial aid options exist to make it more accessible. By staying organized, planning the best path and starting early, you and your student will be better prepared for their future. For more resources, visit our partner Snow College’s financial aid resource.

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