The transition from high school to college evokes a range of emotions from parents, according to a new survey from Sallie Mae, the nation’s No. 1 financial services company specializing in education. Most parents of this fall’s incoming college freshman class feel excited (75%) to send their child to college, and many express mixed emotions including feeling anxious (30%), nervous (28%) or stressed (20%).
For 60 percent of parents the most difficult aspect of sending a child to college is figuring out how to pay the costs of college. Nearly half have a pay as you go mentality with 31 percent expressing some concerns but feeling sure they’ll “figure something out.” Only one-third say they’re ready to pay for college this fall, while one-fifth express concern or misgivings.
Entering your freshman year in college is a significant transition for the entire family, but the good news is there are smart options to help make ends meet. For college students and their families still figuring out how to pay for first semester (or looking ahead to second semester), Sallie Mae recommends the following tips:
1. Apply for federal aid. It’s not too late to complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid to apply for federal financial aid. Some states have deadlines in the winter or spring, but the federal deadline is anytime before the end of your academic year.
2. Pay as you go. Hundreds of colleges offer interest-free tuition payment plans that spread out payments over a number of months rather than one lump sum at the beginning of the semester.
3. Educate yourself on the best borrowing options. If you need to borrow, explore federal student loans first and fill the gap with responsible private education loans. Sallie Mae’s Smart Option Student Loan offers families the choice of fixed or variable rates and in-school payment plans, as well as zero origination fees and family-friendly rates and safeguards.
4. Use financial aid refunds wisely. If your college issues you a refund from grants or loans to cover your out-of-pocket educational expenses, choose the refund method—check, automatic deposit or debit card—that works for you and your banking habits. Be sure to understand any associated fees and steps you can take to avoid them. Keep careful track of your budget to use funds for their intended educational purpose, and, if you received more than you need, return the extra immediately to reduce your borrowing.
5. Safeguard your tuition investment. For many young adults and their families, college is the second-largest financial investment they’ll make. Families have the option to protect their investment with tuition insurance, yet 65 percent of students and parents say they are unaware of such an option. With Sallie Mae’s program, up to 100 percent of the lost cost of attendance is reimbursed if a student has to withdraw from his or her studies for medical or mental-health-related reasons.
6. Set expectations with your college-bound kid. More than half of parents have had frequent conversations with their child about keeping up with academics (59%). More than one-quarter of parents said they will contribute to college with “no strings attached,” but most parents have stipulations such as maintaining a minimum GPA (40%), staying out of trouble (28%) or working while in school (19%). Meanwhile, whether it is catching up or checking in, 40 percent of parents plan to stay in touch with their college student via daily text messaging.