College acceptance letters are starting to arrive, and families now must figure out how to pay the tuition. Here are some sites that offer guidance to the world of financial aid:
•The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A relatively new federal agency, the bureau has a beta site on college finances. One of the bureau’s goals is to make students’ borrowing costs clearer. Near the top of the page is a college-prep timeline showing the steps from researching schools to repaying college debt. Along the way, one presumably gets an education.
•Federal student aid. The first step in requesting federal aid for school is to fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid. You have to do it only once a year, no matter how many colleges you apply to. And the earlier the better. As soon as you file the electronic form, you’ll see what is likely to be a shocking ballpark number for the education expenses you’re expected to pay out of pocket.
•U.S. News & World Report college roundup. The section on paying for an education is meant to explain some of the terminology and procedures that students and families will encounter. Take note of the “overlooked ways to pay for college,” which include getting an early start on college savings accounts called 529 plans and digging around for otherwise-overlooked community sources of scholarship money.
•College Board. This group, which runs the SAT college-entrance examination system, also offers advice on financing your higher education. This page includes a link to the board’s scholarship-search service. Many scholarships have obscure criteria, so how would you even find all the ones that might fit you? Fill out a questionnaire that can help match students to what the board says is $6 billion available in scholarships through 2,200 programs.