A Helping Hand in Financing Education
"After publishing a book about scholarships for math and science students in 1993, I began receiving many questions about planning and paying for college by email," said Kantrowitz. "Since the Web had just started, I posted the answers on a Web page and responded with instructions about how to access the web. I began proactively answering questions before they were asked, and then the website took on a life of its own."
He established FinAid, an online source for financial advice, in 1994 in order to answer students' financial aid questions, and to offer articles and pieces on issues that addressed concerns in this area. Since then, he's been quoted in more than 5,000 newspaper and magazine articles; has written books on scholarships and financial aid; and has contributed to major news sources such as The New York Times,
When it comes to financing an education, Kantrowitz is convinced that despite the recent economic downturn, college is still a worthwhile investment for most students, but it takes a lot of diligence and work.
His first basic advice for current students is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, even if they didn't receive any aid last year. The form itself can be complicated to fill out, and its nature often deters some students from completing it. However, help is available through (800)-FED-AID and other sources.
To add to the challenges of finding enough money for college, the Pell Grant program has not kept up with inflation and rising college costs, making some students wonder if college is even worth pursuing. It is, though, explained Kantrowitz, since people with college degrees generally earn more money than people with just a high school diploma.
Beyond federal grants, it is important to apply for every scholarship one is eligible for - even those that are only
When it comes to minority scholarships, Kantrowitz added, "There's a belief that there are more scholarships for minorities than whites, but this isn't true. White students are 40 percent more likely to win private scholarships than minority students. Yet, there are many scholarships for Hispanics and minorities that need more applicants, like that of the
Because applying for financial aid can be cumbersome, students might think it is better to attend a two-year college or work while in college as a quick solution to making school more affordable, rather than seeking grants. Kantrowitz offers cautions about these strategies. "Of students who intend to obtain a bachelor's degree, only about a fifth of those who start at a community college graduate with a bachelor's degree within six years," he said. "That compares with two-thirds of students who start off at a four-year institution. Also, those who work full time while in college are half as likely to complete their education as students who work 12 hours a week or less."
Another bit of advice Kantrowitz offers students is to be careful with their cost versus quality analysis of schools. "Lots of schools give a bottom-line cost figure that is misleading because it includes loans," he said. "Loans do not cut college costs. Every dollar you borrow will cost about
Today, more than 1,600 schools have voluntarily become a part of the
Aside from looking carefully at the net price, Kantrowitz said not to dismiss any college right away due to cost. Six dozen or more elite colleges, including the
Another tip this financial aid advisor gave was for families to save as much as possible prior to college rather than relying on loans - even if it's just putting aside a little bit each month. "It is cheaper to save than to borrow," he said. "Even if it's a small amount, saving for a child's college education increases the likelihood that they will go to college."
Some families invest in 529 college savings plans that help them put aside money for college tuition and expenses with some tax benefits. Earnings placed into these plans are federal income tax-free as long as withdrawals are used for higher education expenses such as tuition, fees, books, certain equipment, and reasonable costs of room and board. Many of these programs are state-run, and some might be more effective than others, but
"Low-income families seem more willing to sacrifice for their children's college educations than middle to upper-class families, despite their limited means. Wealthier or middleclass families want their own kids to pay all college costs, which is not very realistic," said Kantrowitz. "Also, some don't save for college out of fear that they will receive smaller grant aid. While this is true, the amount you lose in grants is small and still shouldn't stop you from saving. Loans will double the cost after completing college, which is a lot worse."
The final bit of advice Kantrowitz offered is for students to be careful of spending too much while in college. "Live like a college student when you are in college, so you don't have to five like a student when you graduate," he said. "Eating out even once a week can add up. A
While students seem to be more careful now more than ever about college finances, especially since many wonder if they'll even be able to get a good job in this economy upon graduating, the federal government hasn't made getting a higher education any easier. "
The consequence of a tighter national belt is that college becomes unaffordable for many lower-income students. The failure of grants to keep pace with college costs is pricing lowincome students out of a college education (college-capable low-income students enroll in college at one quarter of the rate of high-income students). But, it is these students who especially need to find creative ways to finance their education so they're not left behind. And according to Kantrowitz there are options, although it's important to follow his advice and find the help that is available.
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