When students are in high school, they and their parents start learning everything they can about the costs of tuition and the opportunities to get scholarships. Unfortunately, many college parents get a few unexpected and unpleasant surprises when it comes time for their children to enter college. No matter how well-prepared you may feel, here are a few things you may not have thought of, but that you need to prepare for:
- Parent Costs – While you aren’t enrolling in college, you will find that there are many expenses for you that are associated with your child’s college experience. Orientation sessions and special events, along with the associated travel and lodging expenses can easily add up to hundreds of dollars each semester. Knowing this ahead of time will allow you to sock a little extra cash away for these costs so you aren’t left in a financial bind at the last minute.
- Textbooks – Of course, you realize that your child will need textbooks for college. That is a no-brainer. What you may not expect is the cost of textbooks. It is not uncommon for college costs to equal $1,000 or more a semester. Try to find out the ISBN numbers of the books your child needs well in advance so you can shop online for used textbooks. This can save you a great deal of money, but you have to order early to ensure that the books arrive on time.
- Student Loan Interest – Student loans are typically included in financial aid packages, but it is important to remember that this is definitely not free money. If your child can get by without taking student loans, do so. However, if you have to rely on student loans to cover costs, choose federal options first. Try to avoid private student loans, as they often come with higher interest rates. You may also consider alternative financing, such as a home equity line of credit. College financial aid advisers can help you evaluate your options based on your needs and personal financial situation.
- Meal Plans – College students have to eat. Meal plans, however, are not typically a good deal. Unless your child’s college requires the purchase of a meal plan, try giving your child food money throughout the semester. Money in meal plans is not rolled over to the next semester at many schools, so any funds not used will be lost money. If you are forced to buy a meal plan, help your student plan out how to use all the money by semester’s end. If there is money left in the account near the end of the semester, it is better to use it at the campus convenience store than to let it go to waste.
- Scholarships – There is a wealth of scholarships available to college students, but it takes some time and effort to find them. Try to start looking for college scholarships as early as possible and get applications in early. While many people believe that high school and college advisors will identify scholarship opportunities, the burden is really on the parents and the students themselves. Make it a priority to find and apply for every possible scholarship in order to have the best chances of getting funding.
While parents expect college to be expensive, these common surprises leave many families struggling to make ends meet. By being aware of what to expect, you can better meet the challenges as they arrive and can save money while paying for your child’s education.