JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This is the time of year when many high school seniors are finding out where they're going to college next year. This is also the time when many parents are worried about how they're going to pay for that education.
College represents the second biggest expense for many families. Start saving when the kids are young. Open a 529 College Savings plan. The money you accumulate can be withdrawn tax free if it's used for qualified education expenses.
Education experts say open a Florida Prepaid College Plan which allows you to prepay the cost of college tuition and required fees at today's prices. "I personally have a 21-month old and we have a Florida Prepaid Program for her. We bought that last year," said Anissa Agne, the Director of Student Financial Aid at the University of North Florida.
Agne says the most important part of the financial aid process is for parents to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance, or FAFSA, form. It's used to determine how much federal and state grants a student gets. It's also used to calculate how much money colleges will offer you.
The FAFSA must be completed during the winter of the year you plan to attend college. The early bird may have the advantage. "That's when the institution runs its first packaging. It's when the FAFSA comes in and all the awards are determined. That's when the institutions have the greatest amount of money to award," says Agne.
UNF sophomore Jasmine Thompson filled out the FAFSA, and that was her ticket to a lower-priced college education. "I did talk to some of the financial aid advisors here and they told me about the FAFSA. I filled that out. I got a couple of scholarships and some grants and it hasn't been as stressful as I thought it was going to be," said Thompson.
Schools will offer scholarships for some students, but also look for scholarships on your own. Work study can also help pay the bills. Student loans can make up the difference.
The average cost of attendance at a Florida Public University is about $18,000 a year. The financial aid office at UNF says it meets about 60 percent of that cost in financial aid. A new FAFSA form has to be filed every year a student is in college.
First Coast News