How to Afford College? Thinking Ahead.

Even if your child is only in elementary school, you may already be haunted by the question of how to afford college. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably painfully aware that the costs of a college education have skyrocketed in recent years. So what is the average parent to do? Starting planning now to ease the burden later. Here’s how to get started:

How to Afford College

1. Save.

This one probably goes without saying, but even putting a little money aside each month can put a dent in future college expenses. Particularly if you get an early start. Create a separate savings account or CD just for college expenses and set aside whatever you can. Be sure these accounts are in the parent’s names though. Having a hefty college fund in the child’s name can negatively affect their ability to get future loans. Bonus: if your child is very young, this is a great place to put birthday and Christmas money from relatives.

2. Share responsibility with your child.

When the time comes, consider sharing the financial responsibility of college with your child. Perhaps you can offer to pay for three quarters or half of all expenses if they commit to make up with rest through work, loans, or scholarships. Students who have some “skin in the game” for their education usually take it more seriously and focus more on their studies.

3. It’s never to early to plan for scholarships.

Even if your child is still years away from college, you can start nurturing interests now that may have future scholarship potential. While nurturing solid academic performance is always a great start, consider sports, music, and the arts as well. A great athlete can earn a full-ride in a heartbeat. A straight-A student is learning the ropes of a successful college career right now. And a fantastic musician is well on their way to earning arts scholarships. Fostering a love of reading and writing will take your future scholar far as well. The biggest part of any scholarship application are the essays, and a well-crafted essay can really set your child apart in a sea of great candidates.

4. Keep your school options open.

If you have your heart-set on a particular university for your child, consider opening yourself up to other possibilities. A big name doesn’t always mean a better education. A great college education is what you make it. An excellent student can prepare for an amazing future at almost any institution of higher learning. In-state tuition will always save you big bucks vs. out of state, and many inexpensive community colleges partner with top-notch state schools to transfer credits. Be flexible, keep an open mind, and you might just find the perfect solution for you and your budget.