The Free Application for Student Financial Aid opens on Sunday, for the 2018-19 school year. That’s got me thinking about college again … primarily the funding of it.

It was no easy task to financially figure out how to send my oldest son to school.

Fortunately, he is wicked smart and his SAT and composite ACT scores helped him sail into a competitive Canadian university, skipping his freshman year entirely.

He cruised, as well, into three U.S. engineering-type programs or schools.

The sticker prices ranged between $24,000 to $74,000 a year.

I spent most of my son’s senior year convinced there was a secret known by other parents in financial situations like mine about how to pay for a place like Tufts or Smith without both a trust fund and/or indenturing their kids or families to student loan servicers.

The secret is not federal student aid. The most a college freshman will get in loans is about $5,500. We qualified for that and snapped it up, along with a private loan (more on that when I fully regret it).

The thing to keep in mind when applying for federal aid is not the pathetic amount allotted to students of any qualifying income level. It is that colleges use information from the FAFSA when they award in-house scholarships and grants.

Many private colleges, and a few public ones, even meet a family’s entire financial need, based on the FAFSA. That’s why my son applied to the University of Chicago, after much pleading and financial hand-wringing from me.

“It’s not a bio tech school,” he protested in one of our many senior year stand offs.

I snapped, “But it could be almost – or entirely – FREE!”

His Canadian university is not free, but it is about one-third the expense of a comparable American private college (of course, those schools might have met the entirety of our financial need, but he didn’t apply to them because … bio tech).

When we realized our “family contribution” for the Northern Choice, after federal and in-school aid was applied, was exactly the same as our balance at the state university, AND he would graduate in three years instead of four, AND a favorable exchange rate for the foreseeable future, I finally understood the secret.

You – and your kid – will figure it out.

There’s probably going to be some borrowing, unless your kid is very lucky and had parents and/or grandparents who planned, or who did something really smart like start lobstering at age 12, socking away all the earnings.

Decide what’s your debt ceiling  – this is important – for the WHOLE degree program. Don’t borrow over it. That’s my best advice.

Apply for outside scholarships and grants. A single award may only be $500-$1,000, but those amounts add up, chipping away at the sticker price, too.

Consider Canada. Tuition is much less expensive. Period. Plus, there’s poutine.

FAFSA opens on Sunday at Fill it out as soon as you can, because colleges will give away their free money to the kids who apply first.

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