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Paying for college? 6 ways to make it affordable

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(BPT) - Is your child looking forward to starting their college journey in the fall? The months leading up to their first year can be incredibly joyful and yet stressful, given the cost of an undergraduate degree. Now that your child has chosen their school, it’s time to put your financial plan together.

A recent study by College Ave found that 83% of current undergraduate students felt a college degree was crucial for their future. At the same time, 7 in 10 students agreed that paying for college is stressful. Over half were surprised just how much their college education would cost.

Affording college can be stressful, but there are several ways you can help your children afford their degrees and set them up for success later in life. To get started, check out these six tips you can use to pay for college.

1. Submit the FAFSA

If your family hasn't filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), now is the time to do so. Every year your student attends college, your family should submit the FAFSA form. Not only is the information on the form used to provide federal loans and grants, but many schools also use the information to offer students scholarships and other forms of financial aid. Some aid is limited, so it’s important to remind your student to fill out the form as early as possible.

2. Continue the search for grants and scholarships

The College Ave survey found that the No. 1 way families pay for college is through merit aid grants and scholarships.

You may be familiar with the Pell Grant, which provides federal funds to students based on financial needs. However, your state or school may have other grants. Make sure to search your state's department of education website and your child's college's website to see if they qualify for existing grants.

Scholarships are another popular way to pay for college tuition. While many scholarships are based on grades, your student may not need a 4.0 to receive a college scholarship. Some scholarships are based on locations, majors, family backgrounds and other criteria. Your employer may even offer scholarships!

To find scholarships, speak with your student's high school guidance counselor. Don't forget to search scholarship websites. One easy scholarship to apply for is the $1,000 scholarship monthly sweepstakes at CollegeAve.com/scholarship.

3. Federal student loans

Around 40% of survey respondents said they planned to fund a college education using federal loans. Take a look at your student's financial aid package, which will list any federal loans your student can take out in their name. Federal student loans have low fixed rates and offer unique benefits, such as income-driven repayment plans.

4. Private student loans

Federal student loans may not be enough to cover tuition. Consider a private student loan to help bridge the gap between financial aid and any remaining educational expenses. Many undergraduates might not qualify on their own and will likely need a co-signer like a parent to get approved. Look for loans that offer competitive rates and repayment options that work for your family. Use a student loan calculator like the one at CollegeAve.com to estimate your future monthly loan payments.

5. Part-time employment

Whether through an off-campus job or an on-campus work-study, your student can chip away at their college expenses as they attend class. Your child may even consider working during the summer to help afford college. Not only do jobs, whether on- or off-campus, provide funds for tuition, but students can also seek jobs in their future career fields and gain valuable experiences and connections before they graduate.

6. Assess what you can contribute

For some parents, they have the means and desire to help pay for their child’s college education. According to College Ave’s survey, 41% of current students are paying for tuition with their parents’ income or savings. In addition, more than half say their parents help pay for their housing, health insurance and phone bill while in college.

Review your finances and see what you can afford. Have the conversation and be clear about what you can contribute and who is responsible if you’re borrowing. Every little bit counts in helping your student achieve their undergraduate goals.

Using these six tips, your family will be well on its way to affording your child's college education and creating a solid foundation for their career. To learn more about the survey results and how to plan and pay for college, visit CollegeAve.com.