It is that time of year when juniors and seniors should be thinking about college. For juniors this means attending college fairs, getting information about colleges, and planning college visits. For seniors it means sending in applications and focusing on the financial pieces of the process.

While finances for college differ for every family, from the family that has enough to cover all expenses to the family that needs to take out loans, there are some things that every student should be looking at to help with college expenses (even if your family can foot the whole bill, scholarships would allow you to put that money towards something else):

1. FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid
A part of the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid makes college possible for students all over the country by providing grants, loans, and work-study. Not only does filling out the FAFSA form give you access to funds from the government, but colleges and universities use the data from the form to offer additional aid. Everyone should fill out the FAFSA form, regardless of income or age. A mathematical formula determines how much your family should be able to contribute to your college education, so even if the family income is high, you may still qualify for financial aid both from Federal Student Aid and from your college or university. The form is not overly complicated, and is well worth the time spent in filling it out.

2. Scholarships (FastWeb)
I applied for many scholarships and received a few that helped me pay for college and be able to attend. But I still wish I had known to start sooner. There are an overwhelming number of scholarships out there to help pay for college. Websites like consolidate many of those scholarships and make it easier to sort through the ones you should focus on the most. There ARE scholarships available for high school juniors, so start EARLY in applying. Be sure to pay attention to deadlines. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to get a great scholarship by failing to turn in the application on time. Spend time at the counselor’s office at school to see what scholarship applications are available there. Check the local library. Keep your eyes open at the grocery store. I recently saw a scholarship contest sponsored by Dr. Pepper that involved writing an essay and possibly getting to be on a Dr. Pepper can (not to mention having some of your tuition paid for!).

3. Student Loans
Although it would be nice to have college paid for ahead of time, not every family has the resources to do this. Parents, it may be more beneficial for you to save the money for your retirement so that your children do not have to take care of you financially later on than for you to pay for their college now. It may be a good idea for your student to wait a year and work to save up some money for college – or it may not be a good idea. As a family you need to be in constant coversation together about finances and what you all need to be doing.

When you fill out financial aid applications or visit the bank, you will find that there are many student loans available. Please remember that a student loan is a loan that must be repaid, like a home or car loan, and regardless of whether you finish school and get your degree or if you get a job in the field. Be sure you research the types of loans available to you and decide which ones would be best for your family. You may find that after you turn in your FAFSA you could get loans to cover all your tuition plus room and board, but you figure instead that if you take less you could work part-time to cover room and board so that you will have that much less to pay back  Again, talk together about the best options. Have conversations with the financial aid office at your college or university so that you have enough information to make the best choices for your family and your future.

Be sure that you work out a budget together. It is good to know exactly how much you need to live on and what income you need to cover those expenses. When choosing which loan to get, if you do need to get one, be sure that you do not use it to cover “having fun” in college. Use a job or limit those activities (you can still have fun without spending a lot of money in college) so that you are not using loan funds and spending years of your life working hard to pay for that fun later.

If you happen to be reading this blog and college is a few years down the road, please do not hesitate to get in touch with iMoneyCoach to see how we can help you prepare better for college, including saving up enough so that loans are not such a burden (or may be avoided altogether). We have a FREE college prep guide that we would love to send you to help out with college planning and knowing which steps to take next. You can comment below or send an email to

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