This summer, millions of families will face the facts about college admission. For most, this journey into higher education involves one of the biggest price tags of their lives. And the evidence continues to suggest there won't be many or any cost cuts in the future.
Whether you're the parent of a high school freshman or a senior, there are ways to save some cash before it's time to buy those extra long twin size bedsheets. All of them involve doing your homework before you pull out the credit card. Some require you to check your ego and emotions at the door, and all require you think outside of the box just a little.
If you're in the middle of the college-bound process, it might be time to toss that old "you get what you pay for" theory. That's because free resources are plentiful and getting better every day! Today you can visit colleges, tap into multiple perspectives (university, student, parent, counselor), and obtain expert advice without filling your gas tank. This may not replace face-to-face interactions, but free preliminary information gathering can facilitate decision-making and save you time and money in the process.
Below are some free summer 'site'-seeing suggestions for college cost-cutting:
College road trips are a rite of passage for many families, but before you pile the kids in the SUV, take a few virtual tours. Always view the university's video tour first, then consider a tour from a student perspective via CollegeProwler.com or Unigo.com. On the edge as to whether the university road trip is worth the gas? Calculate fuel costs on SmartCollegeVisit.com.
Online prep courses are often less expensive than classroom options. Explore your teen's learning style and if home study is an option, examine ACT and SAT online courses available at ACTstudent.org and SAT.Collegeboard.org.
Don't spend money to look for money. Great scholarship opportunities can be identified online, but no reputable site will ask you for a credit card. Check out sites like Zinch.com, CollegeProwler.com and BigFuture.org for scholarship information and searches.
College Brainstorming, Strategy and Handholding
This summer marks the College Board's launch of the comprehensive student and family-centered site BigFuture.org. Covering the basics from planning to financial aid, Big Future also tackles emotionally-charged teen and parent topics. The clean, intuitive layout covers college admissions from A to Z and gives parents and students a hand and a voice in managing a confusing process.
Meet The Experts
Embrace your social media geek and head to Twitter.com, Linkedin.com and Facebook.com for college-bound chats, groups and fan pages. There you'll meet plenty of experts who are willing to share their skills, answer your questions and point you in the right direction before you spend a dime.
What's your college cost-cutting tip?
Follow Nancy Berk, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nancyberk