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During my radio interviews, many students and parents ask me when they should start looking for scholarships. I always answer, "As soon as possible." Getting involved in financial aid and financial planning can keep you from pushing the panic button at the last minute and doing the thing that seems easiest in the short term - like refinancing your home (which you probably have just paid down the mortgage to a reasonable level and had planned to enjoy in your retirement).

Parents should begin when their child is a toddler. By setting up a monthly savings plan that is affordable for your household, you can begin building a fund for your child's college education immediately.

$$ EduSave $$
Saving for College the FASTaiD Way. EduSave is a college savings plan for parents of small children. The typical EduSave scenario: put away a specific amount every month, depending on the cost of the school you are shooting for. If you're saving for a public institution, $67 per month should be sufficient. If you're saving for a private college, you will have to double that to $134 per month. The $67 savings plan for a state supported college would represent an out-of-pocket cost to you of about $800 per year, or $14,500 in eighteen years. With simple interest accruing, you would have about $30,000 available for college education at the end of the eighteen-year period. For a private school, just double that.

Currently, the cost of college is rising at twice the rate of inflation. As a matter of fact, in the last ten years alone it has increased 146%. Back in 1980, I saw an article in Money magazine that predicted it would cost almost $100,000 to send a child to college in 1990. I didn't believe it. Unfortunately, it was a true prediction. If you look at such universities as Stanford, Harvard or Yale, you will discover it easily will cost you more than $20,000 per year. In addition, it's taking most students more than four years to finish college.

By starting early with an educational savings plan, you will have something to offset the shock that paying for college can create. As with all investment decisions, be sure to consult your own financial advisor and read carefully the investment plan's prospectus.

For the student who is looking for scholarships, I advise both student and parents to start applying for financial aid in the student's freshman year in high school. Believe it or not, there are application deadlines for college scholarships throughout the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. There are even some scholarships for seventh and eighth graders. Just for being a high school student there are over 36,000 scholarships. There are 1,700 scholarships for being a high school freshman and that number doubles every year. For example, 3,400 for sophomores, 6,800 for juniors and so on. The average student should be dealing with 20 to 30 scholarship sources each year that they are specifically eligible for, from the thousands that are out there.

I am always surprised when students put together their financial aid package during their freshman year in college, then never do anything else. Actually, they should be doing this on a yearly basis because many scholarships require you to be a college freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior. It should be a joint effort involving both student and parents, because high school students often don't even begin to comprehend financial aid until they are in college. They have many other worries, like what college they will go to, how they are going to get in, what they will major in and, of course, what to wear to the prom. Once "senioritis" sets in, forget it!

Make searching for financial aid a group effort. The plan is really very simple. Be organized, be neat and don't procrastinate.

Parents and student should sit down during the student's freshman year in high school and select possible colleges. I have outlined what I call "The College Bound Family Library" outlining "What To Be, Where To Go and How To Pay For It." To help with decision making, I recommend that they invest in a good guide to four-year colleges. There are several that can be found in the reference section of your favorite bookstore.

Whether it's from Arco, Lovejoy or Peterson, these inexpensive guides list all four-year, two-year and vocational-technical schools in the country and should stimulate the student's interest in where to go to school. Using these books, you can cross-reference the schools via major, fields of study, geographic location and many other helpful categories.

I suggest selecting 10 to 15 schools and writing to them. Ask for their financial aid package, college catalog and admissions package. In the financial aid package, you will find all the information on state and federal funding. Or you can call the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-433-3243 for financial aid information. You will also find the list of endowments in most college catalogs under the financial aid section. And, of course, the admissions package is for just that - getting into college.

Here at the FASTaiD site, you will find helpful information about financial aid, scholarships and endowments as well as addresses for most of the colleges and universities in the United States.

Another book you might want to consider is the Occupational Outlook Handbook. It lists virtually every career field - from aeronautics to zoology. It will help the student as he or she considers a career path and a major field of study for college. It will tell them the best courses to take and the salary expectations for each occupation. I was given one of these books when I was 18. It was a wonderful gift that really got me thinking about what I was going to do with my life. It is put out by the U.S. Department of Labor and can be ordered by calling CFKR Career Materials at 1-800-525-5626.

Prentice Hall publishes my book, entitled The Scholarship Book (for undergraduates) and Career Press publishes my Graduate Scholarship Directory (for master's, Ph.D. and post doctorate levels) and International Scholarship Directory (for study anywhere in the world). They have tables in the front that will enable you to cross-reference your search by categories: educational, occupational and personal background and goals. The FASTaiD SCHOLARSHIP SEARCH does the same (and, possibly, a more thorough) job, but without all the effort that the book requires.

Finally, make use of all available resources, such as your financial aid officer, counselor and librarian. Local businesses and organizations are possible sources of funding. Your Chamber of Commerce or your bank manager are good places to start. Even friends, teachers, employers, and local service clubs (such as Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis) may be helpful.

  FASTaiD 1998 CEE       All rights reserved. Do not copy or redistribute in any form.         Mail: Editor