Paying for College In 2010? Understand the Financial Aid Process and Prepare to Navigate the Hurdles Ahead Less Free Aid from Colleges Combined with Ongoing Credit Restrictions Will Make Covering Tuition Costs a Challenge for Families, but Options are Available

BOSTON, Feb. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- Thousands of high school seniors across the country are in the midst of submitting college applications, and for most, the issue of how to cover tuition costs is already top of mind. Whereas only a few years ago paying for college was a challenge, in 2010 it's downright paralyzing due to higher tuition costs, fewer grants and scholarships from colleges, tighter family budgets, and limited student loan options.

College financing experts at SimpleTuition, Inc., which runs SimpleTuition.com, the premier destination for personalized student loan research and comparison, and TuitionCoach.com, the leading website for personalized college financial guidance, predict challenges for families paying for college in 2010.  The gap between what families are awarded for financial aid and what they can cover will be wider than ever, creating even more need for PLUS and private student loans. However, as lenders are still rebounding from last year's credit crunch, only a limited amount of loans are available, and credit requirements remain high.

Experts from SimpleTuition and TuitionCoach advise families to start looking at financing options early. The first priority? Get a solid grasp on how the financial aid process works.

"Families often have a number of misconceptions about paying for college that can be very costly," said Monisha Perkash, general manager of SimpleTuition's TuitionCoach.  "With tuition costs on the rise, and available aid on the decline, it's more important than ever to understand how the financial aid process works and take the steps necessary to increase eligibility for need-based aid."

Experts from SimpleTuition and TuitionCoach note that parents and students should keep the following in mind:

- Don't choose a college based on the sticker price.  Most families will qualify for some form of financial aid to supplement the "expected family contribution" or EFC.  A family's EFC is determined based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and aid may be distributed on a "first-come-first served" basis, so be sure to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible.

- Plan for college finances just as you do for taxes. Families need to start planning how to pay for college when students enter high school, and this starts with understanding how the financial aid system works. For example, many students work summer jobs to save for college, yet this income can actually limit eligibility for aid.  Proper planning early on will help avoid costly mistakes.

- Know what to look for in your financial aid package. There is a growing trend for colleges to "gap" students by not providing all of the financial aid to which the student is entitled.  Many families do not realize they have been gapped because they don't know how to correctly calculate eligibility for need-based financial aid, nor do they fully understand what forms of aid qualify. Families need to be clear how to interpret their awards to ensure they are getting their fair share of need-based aid.

- Meet with your school's financial aid officer. When you've determined the school of your choice, make an appointment to sit down with their financial aid officers shortly after your award letter arrives to review the details of the offer and make sure there is no confusion about the financial aid package. If you've been hit by hard times, as many people have, don't throw in the towel. Financial aid officers will usually listen to unusual circumstances and oftentimes re-evaluate your EFC based on their "professional judgment."  

TuitionCoach.com guides families step-by-step through the college financial aid process, offering: expert tips for completing financial aid applications; guidance to maximize financial aid eligibility; a personalized assessment of a student's financial aid award; analysis of college funding options; and email consultation.

For additional information about the financial aid process and paying for college, TuitionCoach is hosting a series of free informational Webinars. Dates and times are available at http://www.tuitioncoach.com/collegecost/freewebinar.jsf.  

SOURCE SimpleTuition, Inc.



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