Borrowing for College: Advice about Loans for Students and ParentsSuzanne Shaffer
When my daughter applied for scholarships as a high school senior, we assumed it was a one-time project. She focused on winning enough scholarship money to pay for college with minimal student loan debt and happily matriculated at a school that offered a solid award including scholarships and grants.
It didn’t occur to either of us that many grants and scholarships aren’t automatically renewed. So we were stunned when, after completing the renewal FAFSA freshman year, her second-year financial aid package arrived and the scholarships and grants she’d been awarded previously were not included.
Talk about a blow to our goal of keeping her education affordable! The college was a stretch for us even with the freshman year grants and scholarships. Without that money, despite our careful budgeting, we knew we couldn’t afford the tuition bill.
We found out later that offering a dazzling first-year award package followed by lesser awards isn’t uncommon. Known as “front loading,” it’s a strategy some colleges use to make their admission offer more attractive. This is why it’s so important to verify that the scholarships and grants your student has been offered are renewable and to ask if they will increase incrementally along with rising tuition costs.
Still in the process of learning this the hard way, we had a heart to heart conversation with our daughter. We were trying not to panic, but had to ask some difficult questions. What would happen if she was forced to withdraw? Should we sacrifice our retirement to keep her in school? Would the sacrifice be worth the investment?
Our daughter understood that, in order to stay at her school, she needed to take action. We began investigating other methods of financing the rest of her college education — still trying to avoid student loans if at all possible.
There’s a common misconception that scholarships are only available for high school seniors but nothing could be further from the truth. We discovered there are lots of scholarships available for current college students as well.
These scholarships are often career or college major specific and sometimes come in the form of grants and fellowships. My daughter began by contacting the financial aid office and the career center on campus. She spoke with her professors and asked if they knew of any scholarship opportunities. After a few queries, she found scholarships for current students in her major. There were also some grants and scholarships available from the college that she was not aware of prior to receiving her financial aid package.
She also searched online scholarship sites specifying “current college student” and did a basic Google search with the same terms. She located many scholarship opportunities for current college students. In the end, she applied for and won enough funding to offset the awards she lost after freshman year.
The simple fact is college costs rise every year. Even if your student’s scholarships and grants are renewable, they may not increase in proportion with rising tuition costs. Unless your student scored a full ride for all four years, it makes sense for them to keep applying for scholarships throughout college.
Additionally, if your student plans to attend graduate school, scholarships will be an essential element in financing that stage of their education. Otherwise graduate school debt on top of any undergraduate debt your student may acquire could be crushing.
In a nutshell, scholarships are a straightforward way to reduce any family’s higher education costs. Whatever your financial situation, encourage your college student to apply for scholarships. How much money will your family save?