Financial Checklist for College Parents

As a college parent, you may be trying to balance overseeing the college admission and financial aid paperwork and process. In today’s environment, parents of college students often must make difficult financial choices that may impact their children’s school, housing and travel options. If you are the parent of a high school student, we suggest that you read our College Planning section to learn more about the college application and acceptance processes.

Our College Parents section is designed to help you and your family pay for college. We’ve created a College Parent Checklist to help you navigate the financial aid process and make smart financial decisions.

College Parent Checklist

Start Saving

If you’ve started to look at college costs early, you’re doing the smart thing. If you have started saving for college, even better. Read our section on 529 savings plans to learn more about the tax benefits of saving for college utilizing these plans.

Submit the FAFSA

Submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year, starting when your child is a high school senior. As a parent of a dependent student, you will need to include all of your family’s financial information, including income and assets. If you are in need of financial aid, including free grant money, you must complete this form!

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Review the Award Letter

Your student will receive an award letter from every school that accepted him/her. The award letters are sent in the Spring, usually around April. If your son/daughter is a high school senior, use the award letter(s) from your prospective schools to compare college costs. Your award letter provides in writing all of the college financial aid that your child will be receiving, including federal or state financial aid. If you received any state or federal grants (free money that you don’t have to pay back), the details will be on the award letter as well.

Look for Scholarships

Your award letter will tell you if you received any scholarships directly from the school, such as athletic or academic awards. If your son or daughter didn’t receive a scholarship from the school, there are other scholarships out there that he/she can apply for. You should also ask your school’s financial aid office if there are any scholarships that your student can apply for related to his/her major, hobbies or heritage. Then, start your own scholarship search on the web.

The scholarship application process can be difficult; so it’s important that you continue to encourage your son or daughter throughout the process because you can’t complete the scholarship essays and applications for them. However, you can help them search for scholarships and maintain a calendar of important scholarship deadlines.

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Apply for Federal Education Loans

Once you’ve exhausted free money for college (scholarships and grants), you will likely need to take out education loans. The most widely used, low-cost education loan is the Federal Stafford Loan, which is available to all students regardless of financial need. The Stafford Loan is made in the student’s name, and your child will be fully responsible for repaying this loan. Unfortunately, the Stafford loan is limited to the amounts listed below for dependent students (subsidized and unsubsidized), and the limits are based on your child’s grade level:

  • $5,500 Freshman
  • $6,500 Sophomore
  • $7,500 Junior, Senior and 5th year undergraduate students

As a parent, you are also eligible to take out a federal education loan in your name. The Parent PLUS Loan is available to all parents, regardless of financial need, provided that you pass a credit check. You can borrow up to the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received (that includes scholarships, grants and other federal loans).

Research Private Student Loans

Some parents would prefer not to take on college debt in their name. If you are not interested in the PLUS Loan program for this reason, you might want to consider private student loans. A private loan is a credit-based education loan in your child’s name, which generally doesn’t have to be paid back until after graduation. In most cases however, you would need to be willing to be a co-signer on the loan in order for your child to be approved.

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Each lender develops their own credit criteria and rate schedules for their private loan products, so you’ll need to do some research. If you are a co-signer on your child’s loan, you might want to find a lender that offers a co-signer release program. This will allow you to be released from your co-signer obligations on the loan once the release criteria are met. Those criteria typically are based on your child’s payment record and ability to independently meet the lender’s credit criteria.