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What I Learned Sending My Kid to College (That Isn’t Taught in Textbooks)

College is getting more expensive every year. But there are numerous ways to save money on tuition.

college student

When my child first went off to college, I was so worried they’d starve that I chose the most expensive food plan. But my child – after a few weeks of sleeping in, skipping breakfast and getting tired of cafeteria food – started eating meals off campus.

Once I got over the worry of a starving child (and the issue of wasting money on meals that were never eaten), we smartened up. Next time, we bought a cheaper meal plan and I learned that the card used for meals was also accepted at off-campus restaurants.

A parent’s default setting is to worry about their kids. So if I asked you to worry less about your child, let alone one going off to college and leaving the house for the first time, you’d likely think, “impossible.” I know – I was (clearly) the same way.

Whether you’re ready for it or not, however, colleges treat students as adults. So you’ll also have to adapt. For example, privacy laws prevent parents from calling up schools to get information on their child, particularly if it involves their health or finances. You can counter this by signing up for campus alerts and having the student complete authorization forms.

But the best plan of all is to limit your worry and establish great communication with your student.

Funds Focus

As difficult as it may be, I would suggest devoting some your focus instead to finances. College is getting more expensive – and more difficult to pay for – every year. But there are numerous ways to save money on tuition.

For instance, colleges require students to be covered by health insurance and will sometimes automatically charge you for a plan. And these are not cheap plans – some can cost from $2,000 to $4,000. If your child is already covered, make sure to waive the school’s health plan and show proof that the student has valid insurance.

I also discovered I could get tax breaks to offset all of the expenses of paying for college. You can even deduct the interest you pay on student loans.

Just how beneficial, and important, steps like these prove to be will vary depending on your situation, but there are certain financial measures every parent of a college student should take, regardless of their circumstances. Most notably is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA).

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What Is FAFSA?

Everyone should fill out the FASFA form, even those who believe they won’t qualify for aid because you make too much money. Low interest financial aid loans are available to everyone regardless of income level. Even if a student is not planning on using financial aid, many private scholarships want to see a student’s FAFSA results.

Scholarships outside of the college are another great way to save money. However, many families treat scholarship searching either as solely a freshman year activity or give up as the process leads to frustration and little to no results.

But never give up. Even if your child only wins a relatively small scholarship, that money will reduce any loan amount you have to borrow and, when you factor in interest charges and deferment expenses, could lead to significant savings in the long run.

The Flourish Line

You and your child can make it out of their college years in as sound a financial position as you began. Your child, however, will inevitably go through changes – and this is not a bad outcome. There’s a good chance the child you sent off to college will not be the same one that comes home.

I noticed all types of other changes – not just facial hair, becoming taller than you and putting on a few more pounds. They’re doing their own laundry, volunteering to do yard work and, my favorite so far, cooking their newly learned favorite recipes for family dinner. Even commonplace things such as conversations between us seemed to be more detailed and delved into topics I would never have dreamed my high school student would ever have interest in.

My lesson is this: trust that your child will flourish, act to keep your finances steady.

Donald Kerr is the senior manager of student lending at AAA Northeast.

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