OK, the good intention to stash away a little college money each month when your child started kindergarten may have never come to fruition. And the money you did manage to save looks insignificant compared to public tuition costs—which average about $21,000 a year ($42,000 for private). Don’t despair! Whether your child is just learning to tie his shoes or has already settled into her dorm, these tools will help you get savvy, supported, and better prepared for the rising costs of higher education.
Jane Lynch’s National College Finance Center
Cheered on by Glee’s brassy Jane Lynch, this one-stop college financial site launched this summer with the aim of helping families make smart decisions about saving and paying for tuition. It’s packed full of resources, including loan comparisons, financial aid tutorials, and state-by-state programs. For families that have already acquired college loans, it also has a rich loan-repayment section to help students and parents create lower-stress strategies for paying back money in a sluggish post-college job market.
Forget the old-school, encyclopedic, 14-pound books that list every single college and university in the country. Instead, hone a list of prospective schools with the National Center for Education Statistics’ time- and money-saving College Navigator search program. Plug in what’s most important to your family—tuition, distance from home, major, selectivity, etc.—and you’ll get a list of best-fit schools. Click to turn it into an interactive map or spreadsheet, and to cull more info on how to pay for that perfect college.
MORE: These 10 Colleges Leave New Graduates With the Most Debt
Of course, your child is gifted, talented, and a star lacrosse player. But that might not be enough to get her the funding she needs for the university she’s set on. Good thing there are scholarships that reward left-handers, marble shooters, skateboarders, duck-callers, kids who can sing the national anthem “with sincerity,” and kids with the last name Zolp. Sites like FinAid.org help you search a comprehensive database of unusual and smaller scholarships that match the skills and characteristics of your completely individual college-bound kid.
This website is full of empowering tutorials on managing student loans, credit cards, and limited income. Use their budget calculator and consider downloading the free and excellent Mint.com app to track all of your finances and see how much you are saving and spending with the quick click of a button. Finally, get your teen set up so they can also track their own after-school job earnings, weekend splurges, and college contributions. And imagine this: You could be giving your child a financial education before they graduate high school!
Academic Apps to Keep Kids on Track
Have a high-schooler eligible for an academic scholarship or a current college student who’s already got one? Apps are a great way to help them keep on top of schoolwork so their aid is secured. MyGPA tracks grades and cumulative GPA; gFLASH creates flashcards and quizzes for test prep; and Evernote syncs web pages, text, PDFs, and photos of class notes to create one comprehensive study guide. With iProcrastinate, organize to-dos, share lists with a group, schedule assignment reminders, and (best of all) break down big projects into manageable tasks.
Plus, don’t forget to find out what Federal aid is available to you at FAFSA.ed.gov.
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