I have three sons. One has graduated from college, another is a junior at his university and the youngest is planning to enter college in two years. In other words, I have each step in the process covered. Many aspects about the experience I enjoy. I love the college visits, the time spent with my sons, and learning about each institution. However, the part I dread most is the jigsaw puzzle of financial aid.

Financial aid is an ongoing challenge. It’s a tangled web of acronyms, starting with the PSAT, SAT, ACT, FAFSA, SAR, FSA-ID and the IRS-DRT. It is challenging enough for adults to figure out, much less students. So why would you want to involve your adolescent in this mess?

Each year, Federal Student Aid awards more than $150 billion dollars in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds to over 13 million students. That’s a pretty good reason to make the effort. If not for the cash alone, then consider the worth to your student in helping them value the educational investment. To this end, here are a few tips to involve your student in the financial aid process from someone who has been there:

1. Let them know the full cost of their education. Parents often handle so many of the financial details that their student is oblivious to the final tally they will face after four years. The long-term payback of loans and working when not in school can be sobering. When involved, students see the financial sacrifice required to make their schooling possible.

2. Begin the process early. Hopefully, by the time your student is ready to make college choices, you will have set aside a significant amount in a college savings program. Often, these financing options have tax advantages that can make the funding of your child’s education easier. For those who have not saved, finding the resources for scholarships and loans should start as early as possible during the high school years. In all cases, encourage your student to do the research early enough to meet application deadlines.

3. Encourage students to research the resources. There are many helpful tools that students can find online throughhttps://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/. Also, have them look at https://fafsa.ed.govas a starting point. The largest source of aid my sons received was directly from the institutions they attended; so don’t overlook pursuing all academic scholarships and departmental grants. Closer to home, they may find community foundations, employer scholarships, and service organizations as willing sources of aid.

4. Narrow the field. The vast majority of financial aid uncovered through online searches won’t necessarily be applicable to your student. The key is to allow the student to explore the possibilities while you guide them into the most likely sources of aid—the ones you have the best chances of receiving. This will help to fine tune your focus and save on application time.

5. Allow your student to assist with the applications. The more invested in the process your student becomes the more he understands (and hopefully appreciates) the investment of time and resources. Handing off the responsibility of completing aid applications is a good step in this direction. Your student can fill in the fields he knows and then defer to you for the financial information.

6. Keep tabs on the deadlines. Once your preferred financial aid sources are identified, have your student create a calendar of deadline dates for the submission of applications. This is a major help in staying organized and focused on the timeframe.

7. Include them in meetings with financial aid officers. This can be an eye-opening experience for your student as they view the real-world requirements to make an education possible. It doesn’t just happen. It takes discussion, and often, tough decisions to arrive at a financial aid package.

8. Rejoice in the awards. For many families, the financing of a college education is a major accomplishment. It can be a significant break-through for those new to our country or financially challenged. Even if you’ve been through this process before, it’s a great feeling to reach the goal of a successful financial package. Share in the joy of this achievement with your student and congratulate them on a job well done.

All through the process, celebrate in the prospect of what the future holds and the person your student will become through this investment and experience.  If you have questions about financial aid and scholarships at Grace, an admissions counselor can help you. Connect with an admissions counselor here or call 866.974.7223.

This Post Was Prepared by a Grace College Alumnus with College-Age Children

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