Dear Miss School Manners: My son is a freshman in college, attending school out of state (his choice, not mine). My daughter is a senior in high school, and at least for the moment, planning to stay in state. Next year, we will be shelling out for tuition, room and board and books – times two. Suddenly, the financial reality is hitting us hard. I did a quick Internet search on scholarships and grants but frankly, it’s overwhelming. The schools pile on paperwork but so far it has netted us only $1,000 in grant money, which is not nearly enough for the out-of-state expenses. I don’t want to force my son to transfer to a California school, but if you can’t help me untangle the money madness, I may not have a choice. What resources do you recommend for finding scholarship, grant and loan money?
Thanks, Cash-strapped in Concord
Dear C in C:
We can relate! Having children close together was such a good idea when they were toddlers. Now, not so much. So first, the basics: FAFSA. It’s the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid – and those of you in the preschool peanut gallery are going to want to pay attention too, because that college fund you set up in little Fauntleroy’s name? Yeah, you don’t want to do that. More on that in a sec…
(Read more after the jump. Or write to Miss School Manners now.)
First, make sure your daughter fills out financial aid applications at each college she applies to – it’s generally a no-brainer section of the application package. Have your son check his college’s financial aid web site or call and ask what forms he needs to fill out. What else are the colleges going to want? Ah, the FAFSA.
The online FAFSA application is the gateway to federal and state grants and loans, work-study programs and college aid – and it takes into account the financial burden of multiple college tuitions. Even colleges that have their own endowments for scholarships and loans use the FAFSA, so it’s well worth your time, even if it is a pain. (Or perhaps it’s the proximity to tax time and general college apps panic that just makes it seem so. )
TIMING: Technically, the deadline for California is early March, but you’re going to want to apply much earlier – like late January. And yes, we know your daughter won’t know where she’s going yet. FAFSA asks for the names of all the schools she’s applying to, so you’re covered.
THE FORMS: Here’s what you need to fill this monster out…
1. A personal identification number for you and each of your children. It will be your electronic “signature” and you can’t file without it, so might as well get it now.
2. Other ID numbers: social security, drivers license.
3. Your and your children’s tax returns for 2007. When your W2s arrive in January, crunch the numbers immediately and do a rough – or exacting, it’s kinda up to you – tax return.
4. Info on any untaxed income – social security benefits, etc.
5. A stiff drink … or a soothing cup of tea.
SOME TIPS: The applications are done by your children – one by your son, one by your daughter – so every question that refers to “you” is your kid. “Your parents” is you. It doesn’t sound like it will be confusing and yet, it is. Just keep repeating, “You are not ‘you.’”
Many schools hold FAFSA info nights in December or January – very helpful. The one we attended at Las Lomas several years ago was packed with parents from all over central county. If any East Bay parent ed coordinators or counselors want to let us know the dates of their FAFSA or college info nights, we’ll spread the word.
Your daughter’s college and career center will have more financial aid info too. Not sure which school is yours, but here’s the link for Northgate High School and Ygnacio Valley. YV, by the way, has an alumni scholarship fund.
And finally – and this is the part for preschool parents or anyone contemplating setting up a college fund. FAFSA’s financial aid forms are based on the idea that your child can devote pretty much all his money to his college education, whereas you’ve still got other mouths to feed, so you can only devote a portion. Some families put their children’s college savings into a parent account as a shelter. For more on that topic, check out this Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid piece.
Good luck! And if you’ve already gone the FAFSA route and need more ideas – or you’re a seasoned FAFSAer with info to share, drop us a line.
-Miss School Manners