MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - With high school graduations about to begin, what's ahead for the graduates who move on to college? Just like everything else, the cost of college is going up, and that creates a lot of anxiety for parents and students who are struggling to find ways to afford the next four years.
How much will it cost?
Where to look for financial assistance and scholarships?
How much is out there?
Higher education is coming with a higher cost.
In Alabama in-state tuition and fees at the state's two largest public universities: Auburn's main campus charges $8,700. At the University of Alabama it's about $8,600.
At smaller schools, campus size doesn't necessarily mean smaller costs. At Troy University's main campus you can expect to be charged about $7,200 a year for a typical 15 hour course load.
Alabama State University in Montgomery is on par with Troy's fees.
Private schools are more expensive. In-state private school tuition can top $23,000 per year at Samford and $20,000 at Huntingdon, $14,000 at Faulkner and, again, that's just tuition and fees. Those figures don't include a place to live, food, transportation and books. Parents and students often fail to budget for these "extras" that are absolute necessities.
"I got to college and when I went to the bookstore and I realized that I had to spend almost $500 on just books...I had to hurry up and call home and ask my mom for book money," explained Kristen Dial, councilor at Carver H.S.
- Ever heard of FAFSA? You need to. It's the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
When you throw in the cost of a dorm room, apartment, dining hall plan or other eating arrangements, it's easy to understand why so many parents have sticker shock when they come face to face with the cost of college.
The question is usually, "How are we going to pay for it?"
The Dean of Enrollment Management at Troy, Buddy Starling, has some great advice: "When your son or daughter begins elementary school, it is a good time to start putting money away for college."
For most students college is only possible through scholarships and student loans. A recent national survey found that the average college student graduates owing about $24,000.
How long will it take to pay that back? With $24,000 owed, at 4.8 percent and paying back $200 a month, it would take you approximately 14 years to pay back that loan.
That means only one thing: Bring on the scholarships!
"There's a lot of scholarships out there for students," even in our depressed economy, scholarships are still out there. The internet is a wonderful place to find them.
Keep in mind, many large scholarships go to kids with strong ACT and SAT scores and a solid high school transcript.
"Introduce their students to testing earlier, concentrate on high school grades from the beginning of the 9th grade," Starling says.
As the parent of a son who earned multiple scholarships, Lisa Reid is a firm believer that you must start working together early on. "They should really start looking and investigating in 9th or tenth grade at the latest," she said. "Start gathering information, start a portfolio - get a big notebook- working on their resume their community service because there are community service scholarships out there based solely on that."
Even in tough economic times, parents are encouraged to start saving for college early!
"Having some money to supplement financial aid makes it a lot easier," says Tommy Dismukes, who is the Dir. of Financial Services at Huntingdon. "People relying solely on that and waiting until the last minute,it's a tremendous eye-opener. If people will devote some time, then they are going to be the ones who find some of these nuggets of dollars that are going to help them."
There are a lot of alternatives to a traditional four-year program, like community and private or specialized colleges. There are even technical schools.
A lot of students choose a local school and live at home and work part or full-time to pay their way.
The bottom line: Have a plan and start the process early.
Talk with a guidance councilor and financial aid officers. Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. The more you know, the better you'll be prepared.
Just remember, you're not in this alone.