Help Squad: Sending your kid to college? 7 tips that could save you big bucks

This is the time of year when high school seniors begin to exhale. Graduation is just weeks away, and if they are college bound, hopefully they’ve been accepted to the school of their dreams.

Yet, as kids begin to relax, parents may be more stressed than ever, wondering how they’re going to finance the next four years of their college student’s life.

According to Victoria Sushan, a Deerfield-based financial, credit and debt management advisor, 58 percent of Americans aren’t prepared to pay for college.

With Sushan’s help, we came up with seven tips that might shave off some of the expenses you will incur when it comes to paying for college.

1. Make Financial aid forms a priority: There are two types of financial aid: federal and that given through the college. When applying to either, it’s important to get the application in as soon as possible. This will maximize your chances of getting the most money you are eligible for. Also, seek help from college counselors and financial advisors who specialize in college planning to help you fill out the forms. They will make sure your forms are not only accurate, but that they are filled out as best as possible, which could have an impact on a financial aid decision maker.

2. Go to the Web and visit Scholarships.com or SchoolSoup.com. There you’ll find hundreds of scholarships, grants and other financial aid that could be available to your college student. With monetary awards based on gender, minority status, religion, first in family, hobbies, merits, achievements and unusual qualities — even hair color. Sushan said if your child has good writing skills, often times, a great essay will win award money.

3. Consider faith-based scholarships. Are you and your family strongly affiliated with a religion? There are many religious organizations that offer college scholarships, such as the Jewish United Fund or Young Christian Leaders.

4. Get educated: Financial planning is essential to saving money when it comes to college. Talk to your accountant, your financial advisor, and possibly a college planner. They can determine if something such as the way you file your taxes will affect your financial aid.

5. Look into work study: Talk to college or university counselors about work study programs for your college student, where they can work for the college or university while in school and obtain tuition credits.

6. Consider living options: It might be a lot less expensive for your college student to live off campus. Check with college admissions officials regarding the policies; some colleges require first year students to live on campus. If not, they might have a list of roommate requests for other students living in off-campus apartments.

7. Consider community college: According to Sushan, the average cost of a four-year university or college is $34,000 per year. Community colleges average $5,000 per year. Many credits, if not all transfer from community college to a four-year college, so your son or daughter could start at a community college and end up graduating from a four-year institution.

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