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Tips to Jump-Start Paying for College

While students begin scouring resources determining their best-fit college, parents are left scratching their heads on how to pay for it. With a few simple steps, parents can begin to get a grasp on paying for college and available financial aid.

Step 1: Determine Cost of Attendance (COA).

Many families go to a school’s website, look up cost of tuition, add room and board, and run with that number, forgetting to factor in the cost of fees, books, travel, and personal expenses. Be sure to add all the applicable costs to get the COA. You can also find this information on College Navigator , the U.S. Department of Education’s website; you’re looking for the “Total Expenses” line.

This site also shows you the percent increase in cost from year to year, which is great information to have. Nationally, the cost of college is rising at two and a half times the rate of inflation.

Step 2: Determine YOUR Net Price.

By law, every college receiving federal money was required to include a Net Price Calculator on their institutional website by fall of 2011. The best tools take time to complete and give you detailed information that includes anticipated grants or scholarships; however, most are quite simple (meeting the letter of the law) and leave users with something to be desired.

An additional resource for finding net price is the aforementioned College Navigator, which offers a “Net Price” section for each school or on the College Results website.

Step 3: Determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

In January of the student’s senior year of high school, most families will complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Ultimately, the government gives you your EFC, which determines how much aid your family is eligible for. Want to get an early idea of your EFC? Use the FAFSA4caster.

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