At this time in history, adults with college-age kids are likely struggling with more than simply meeting tuition costs. High unemployment, home values that are tanking and dwindling retirement funds round off the ugly equation that is today’s economy. Even universities and online colleges are feeling the pinch as their scholarship endowment funds take a hit. As a student, you can help make ends meet. Below are some tips to get started:

  1. Look at the big picture. There’s only one way to know the reality of what you’re dealing with and the best place to start is the internet. Take your list of public and private colleges and do a search on their costs for tuition, room and board. Also available online are financial aid calculators for a good idea of what you can (or cannot) expect in terms of help.
  2. Cast a wide net when applying. Even if your savings balance isn’t enough to cover a high-end school, don’t let that prevent you from applying if your grades are up to par. Every college has a different amount of scholarship funding and financial aid packages. Send application materials to a variety of schools to see where the best offer might come from.
  3. Don’t let the term “financial aid” confuse you. Fill out the forms even if you think your parents make too much money. As your guidance counselor for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and see how you fare. This is the best place to start because it is fairly standard no matter which schools you apply to.
  4. Borrow with caution. You’ve surely heard about the shortage of credit available in today’s troubled market. There are student loans with good rates, as well as private loans for your parents if they quality. Be sure to study all of the terms before accepting, however, because the loans will likely follow you around for years to come.

What’s missing in this equation? A job. Many students work their way through college, or even take a year off before starting to pad their bank accounts. Or, you could consider attending a community college for the first year and saving money by living at home. Between loans, scholarships, financial aid, savings and good old ingenuity you can piece together a financial plan that will get you through college. Get creative and you will indeed get ahead.

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