No matter what stage of college planning you're in, there are plenty of ways to make it more affordable. Please click on one of the age groups below to find out how you can get started.
Birth to 5th Grade
Education Savings Plans
It's never too early to begin thinking about saving for college. Even an amount as low as $30 per month can add up over the years. The most common education savings plans are 529s, pre-paid tuition programs, and other savings accounts such as Roth IRAs. The State of Michigan offers both a 529 called the Michigan Education Savings Program (MESP) and a pre-paid tuition program called the Michigan Education Trust (MET).
Saving Versus Borrowing
The MESP provides a college savings calculator on their website which can be used to determine a recommended savings amount. Another tool to help keep you motivated while saving for college is to compare the cost of savings versus the cost of borrowing. You can estimate what a Parent PLUS Loan payment would be and how much interest would accrue by using the Repayment Estimator at StudentLoans.gov.
Don't Get Discouraged
Even if you aren't able to save the full recommended amount, there are many choices to make that can help bring down the cost of college. The estimates do not include any grants or scholarships for which your child may be eligible, and they may choose to invest in their own education by working or taking out student loans.
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6th to 12th Grade
As your child goes through middle school and high school, there are several steps you can take to help prepare them financially for college.
Take Advantage of Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) Classes
Students can save thousands of dollars on the cost to obtain their degree by completing Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits. Many of these credits will apply towards their degree. Depending on the number of AP/IB/CLEP credits they earn in high school they can graduate entire semesters early from college. Think of it as both a savings in tuition, room and board for any semester they are able to complete early.
Engage in Community
First, encourage them to become engaged in their community. It helps the community and it provides skills and experiences that will prepare them for college. In many cases, local organizations will offer scholarship opportunities as well.
Search for Scholarships
As they reach high school, begin to search for scholarship opportunities. Ask around your local community and find out when application deadlines are during their sophomore or junior year in high school to be sure they won't miss out on anything during their senior year.
It's never too late to start saving. Even if you aren't able to save a lot, it is helpful to have a savings account for books, computers, and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Teach Them About Money Management
This is a great time to ensure that your child knows how to create a budget, balance a checking account, and understand their wants versus their needs. Many students come to college without this knowledge or experience. If they are living off-campus and receive financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, or loans to pay for living expenses, they may get a several thousand dollar refund at the start of the semester. They will need to be able to ration those funds to pay for rent, food, and utilities for 4+ months. Students can get themselves into very difficult financial situations if they are not prepared. A great place to start is to by reviewing our Money Management page. Take the time to go through the worksheet and talk everything out.
The State of Michigan has produced a guidebook called Affording College in Michigan, which is a great place to start for students and families who are planning to pay for college.
Current College Student
This is the time to really be on the lookout for scholarship opportunities. Begin with parent employers. Community foundations often have scholarships opportunities and are found throughout the United States. Use an internet search engine to search for scholarships. Think of key words to search for such as an organization you belong to or scholarships for children of veterans. Sometimes, the more specific you are, the better results you will receive.
Once you are admitted into a college, check with their department to see how they award scholarships. They may have an application that is available once per year to apply for all of their scholarships and endowments, or they may have a number of applications.
Employment and Fellowships
Student employment may not cover all of your educational expenses, but it will help reduce what you may need to borrow. It also helps students with time management. Fellowships may be available to allow the students to work in their field of study and earn funds towards their education. These may be offered by an academic department or through national organizations.
Create a Budget
Students sometimes borrow without figuring out what they really, truly need to borrow. It is helpful to create a budget first to make sure you aren't accumulating any more debt than is necessary.
Parents may want to sit down with a qualified financial advisor and determine what options are best if they need to borrow for their student's education. In some cases, they may find that they would be better off taking out a home equity loan for 3.25% instead of a Parent PLUS Loan at double the interest rate.
Reducing Room and Board Expenses
A great way to save money, if possible, is to lower your room and board expenses. Do your parents or another relative live near campus? Maybe you want the "full college experience" and plan to live on-campus the first year, but if you decide to move back home, you could save nearly $9,000 each following year in room and board alone.