Before you start (or continue) reading about the cost of attending college, remember this: the sticker price you see published on college websites is typically higher than what you'll end up paying after financial aid is considered. (Pause for sigh of relief!) That said, it never hurts to start saving and earning money for college no matter where you are in the process. Here are five suggestions.1. Grow your 529 plan. If one of your parents hasn't already opened a 529 college savings plan for you, encourage them to do so. A 529 plan is an investment account that allows people to invest after-tax dollars that will then grow tax-free. The owner of the account (who has to be at least 18) can withdraw the funds without being taxed, as long as they're spent toward higher education expenses. Once you have a 529, you can receive a link to share out to your family and friends which allows them to contribute directly to yours; birthdays and holidays made simple for them, and more rewarding for you!
2. Get work experience. No plans this summer? Ask around to see if any of your neighbors could use help with the lawn or a new babysitter. Look for retail stores, summer camps, coffee shops or restaurants that need a few extra hands this year. While it's tempting to spend what you earn, keep your eye on the prize and put your paychecks somewhere you know you won't touch them until it's time to buy college textbooks and supplies. (And by the way, admissions counselors love seeing work experience on applications.)
3. Sign up to Upromise.com. By creating a free account at Upromise.com, you'll be able to register family credit cards and earn cash back (specifically for college) on a lot of purchases, including 5% cash back on your total restaurant bill at participating locations. Every time you earn cash back, it collects in your account—which you can also connect to your 529, so it transfers over there and keeps on growing.
4. Search for scholarships. Start now, and don't stop; even college students can find plenty of scholarships to apply for when they're already in school. If you search locally, you may find scholarships sponsored by places like your parents' employers or your church. If you log on to fastweb.com or use the College Board's Scholarship Search engine, you'll find hundreds of pretty random scholarships that pay out big. (Want to see what we mean? Click here.) Whenever you win, that's more money saved!
5. Schedule a one-on-one chat with a financial aid counselor. If you happen to already be interested in a few schools, consider reaching out to the Office of Financial Aid. Chances are, a financial aid counselor will be more than happy to talk about your finances and offer more suggestions for saving and how to make their college affordable for your family.
On that note, always feel free to contact Siena's financial aid staff. We have a lot more advice where these tips came from, and we'll always welcome the opportunity to show you how Siena can be affordable for you. (In fact, did you know we awarded nearly $39 million to undergraduates last year?)