What if College Were Free? Experts Say it is Possible

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The Hewitts, authors of the recently released book "Free College Resource Book" (available from Prufrock Press Inc.; http://www.prufrock.com) offer advice for parents and students looking to fund their college educations in this tough economy.

Your kids can go to college without breaking the bank

There's no escaping the fact that college prices are rising. With public college tuition expected to increase more than 6.5% in 2010, many American families feel that college is out of reach. However, two experts say that not only can recent college tuition increases be avoided, but a college education can be nearly free for most families.

"Your kids can go to college without breaking the bank," say college financial experts Doug and Robin Hewitt. The Hewitts should know: They are not only experts at finding funding for college, but they've put five children through college without spending a dime.

The Hewitts, authors of the recently released book "Free College Resource Book" (available from Prufrock Press Inc.; http://www.prufrock.com) offer the following advice for parents and students looking to fund their college educations in this tough economy.

Get started early and get organized. As Doug puts it, "The earlier, the better." Some scholarships are only open to sophomores and juniors in high school, and many contests allow students as young as eighth grade to enter. It may seem early to think about college in junior high school, but many of these contests offer savings bonds and cash prizes--all potentially valuable as back-up funds for college, especially for needed items like books, computers, and housing. As for getting organized, Robin suggests using a specialized bookmarks folder and a computer filing system, including a computerized calendar system that sends reminders to students' phones for scholarship deadlines.

Don't quit. Doug and Robin also advise being persistent and sticking it out, even when it seems like you've received nothing but rejections. As Doug notes, "You may lose out on your first five scholarship applications, but then you'll strike it big on the sixth." Robin adds that this mentality should extend to after a student's acceptance to college: "You never know what can happen; a school grant could be canceled due to lack of funding."

Don't make assumptions. One of the most common mistakes parents make is to assume they make too much money for their students to qualify for financial aid, Robin says. "Many students and parents are surprised to find out that they qualify," she adds. Deadlines for filing the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, usually occur in April, and the Hewitts advise everyone to complete the form, regardless of your income--the FAFSA not only determines grants, but also the loans students are eligible for, including subsidized loans.

Small scholarships can pay off. "Some students, our children included, initially scoff at the smaller scholarships, say those for $100," Doug says. "But those scholarships can add up in a hurry, especially when those first tuition bills roll in." Robin adds that students often forget about the "little costs" of college, like books--and smaller scholarships are extremely useful for covering those lesser, but yearly, expenses.

Consider career options. With major shifts in today's job market, Doug suggests students look carefully at their future career plans. Some careers may be almost nonexistent when the student graduates or have changed dramatically. Other careers are just emerging, he adds, such as new programs related to Homeland Security and biomedicine. Often, colleges sporting new and emerging programs will offer generous scholarship packages to students who declare those areas as their major and stick with it. Robin adds that summer internship programs also can help. Their son was recently accepted into an 11-week internship in Washington, DC, that includes a $4,500 stipend and housing for the summer. "The non-monetary bonus is that he'll be doing research in a federal program, which will really boost his chance of getting into the graduate school of his choice," she notes.

Whether you're a student or a parent, the Hewitts recognize that finding college funding is tougher than ever. As Doug notes, more students are in the "college pool" with older students going back to college to enhance their potential for better jobs during the recession. They add that their book, "Free College Resource Book," includes many more resources for finding college aid; in particular, help for parents wondering "Where do we start?" In the book, they extol the value of networks and connections, especially parents pooling their knowledge and resources to help one another. As Robin notes, they like to offer their advice to others because "We've not only learned it, we've lived it."


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Joel McIntosh
Prufrock Press Inc.
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