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By Charlestien Harris

It is never too early to start thinking about money, especially if you are planning to attend college this summer or the coming fall. This is definitely the time of year that high school students usually learn whether or not they have been accepted to their selected colleges and also what types of financial aid that school might provide for them.

When I was in school, I received a financial aid letter, or a notice, that detailed what kind of financial aid I had available and how much assistance I was eligible for. Today, however, there is no standard financial aid letter, so it can be hard to compare offers from multiple schools. It is equally important for you as a student (or parent) to spend some time understanding exactly how much each school will cost your family. Here are some steps you can take to get ready to finance your college education.

This first step will help you to figure out approximately how much money you or your parents will need to get started with the financial part of paying for your education. The CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) has an excellent tool to help you figure out how to assess your financial aid offer from the schools you have heard from. You can find that tool here.

The second step to take is to start subtracting any grants and scholarships from the cost of attendance listed by the schools you have on your list. If you have received any scholarships or grants from outside sources, this will definitely result in a reduction of cost for you or your parents. Now is the time to apply for those funds. Several organizations have their applications available for potential applicants to apply whether it is online or on paper. You might even try sororities, fraternities, professional organizations, or associations, and some scholarships are given based on need and other factors.

The third step may involve figuring out whether or not you need to borrow money to complete the task of registering for college. When considering whether or not to borrow money, you should take a look at what funds you already have available to you, or if your parents are going to assist you with financing. There are several options available if you have to go this route, but be cautious because you should never borrow more money than you actually need to cover the cost of your college education. Student loans, as well as private loans, are other sources of financial support that you may have to consider. A good resource to explore for more information about student loans, private loans, and other types of financial aid is here.

The fourth step is to begin to apply for private scholarships. There are tons and tons of scholarship funds available that are never given out because no one applies. You should exhaust every financial avenue possible when it comes to trying to fund your college education. You might ask the question, “How do you find scholarships that almost nobody knows about?” You can begin by asking your high school counselor. They receive a huge amount of information from colleges and other outside sources about the availability of scholarships and the requirements. You can also use the Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool to sort more than 8,000 opportunities for student aid. That tool can be found here.

You might also get some support by inquiring at the financial aid office at your college of choice. You might also check to see if your employer or your parents’ employers offer assistance. A lot of companies are offering to pay for or reimburse employees for education expenses that will help their employees excel or prepare them for a possible promotion.

For many students, planning how to pay for school can be complicated and frustrating. You may need to have several detailed conversations with family, a guidance counselor, and the school financial aid office to get more information and be properly prepared to fund your education. If you’re unsatisfied with your selected school’s offer, you might be able to appeal it. Some schools are willing to change their decision or provide a better offer if you have a better one somewhere else. If your family’s financial circumstances have changed significantly since filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you might also be able to get additional assistance as well.

For more information on this and other financial topics, visit, email me at, or call me at 662-624-5776.  

Until next week – stay financially fit!