It's Never Too Early To Save for College

For the majority of Americans, who don't have tens of thousands of dollars lying around, putting together a plan to finance higher education may seem like a daunting task.

However, it doesn't have to be, says Lorna Hill, regional marketing manager of American Education Services.

Hill advises parents and students to do their homework and meet with a financial aid professional to map out a plan.

"Oftentimes when families are worried they haven't saved enough, they are embarrassed about speaking to someone about it," she said. "It should never be this way. Most families are simply not aware of the options that are out there, which is why it is so important to meet with a financial professional to talk about their situation, whatever it may be."

One of the first steps for any student looking for financial aid through a federal program is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available online at www.fafsa. ed.gov and in high school guidance offices. Using the information provided in the FAFSA, the Department of Education determines a student's eligibility for federal funds, then notifies the student of his or her status with the Student Aid Report.

Federal aid can come in many forms, including the Pell Grant, which is the largest federal grant program. Almost 4 million students received Pell Grants in 2003. Loans, scholarships and work-study programs are some other available aid resources.

"The breadth of aid options available can be a bit overwhelming, which is why I encourage families to do some research, figure out exactly how much money will be needed over the course of the student's education and then start exploring the options," Hill said. "EducationPlanner.org is an excellent online resource for students and parents. The Web site walks students through all of the steps to prepare for, apply, select, decide and pay for higher education."

It's never too early or too late to start planning for higher education. Do your homework, speak with a financial aid professional and plan on investing some time into the process.

"It doesn't matter how far along your child is in the application process," Hill said. "There's no time like now to start planning for his or her collegiate future and your financial peace of mind."

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