(BPT) – If there’s a high school senior in your family, your life may be busy with college applications and excitement over the coming changes. But along with that excitement can come anxiety about how your family will cover tuition, room and board, plus other required college expenses for 2022 and beyond.

In a recent survey, 92% of parents agreed a college degree is crucial for their child’s future but 67% said they wished more resources existed to help their family understand how to plan and pay for college. In the College Ave Student Loans parent survey, 83% of parents said the cost of college is more of a financial burden than in previous years.

While you’re preparing for this milestone in your child’s life, here are tips to help navigate the financial costs of college from Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized expert on student financial aid, scholarships and student loans.

1. File the FAFSA as soon as possible. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important step to help pay for college and students whose families file the FAFSA sooner receive more grants on average compared to those who file later. The FAFSA is required for determining eligibility for federal and state aid, and can also open the door to school-based scholarships and other resources. Visit FAFSA.gov to apply.

2. Encourage your child to apply to a mix of colleges and universities. Because you can’t know now what financial aid may be offered from each school, it’s smart to have at least one “financial aid safety school” in the mix a school that would be affordable if you receive little or no financial aid. In most cases, in-state public colleges are the least expensive option. You may also want to research which states have reciprocal in-state tuition agreements with neighboring states, to widen your child’s options.

3. Use all available college resources when applying. Colleges and universities offer lots of information and resources on their websites. For example, most colleges provide a net price calculator to help you estimate what you’d have to pay to cover the first year of college, which can help you choose a financial aid safety school. Don’t hesitate to contact schools with questions throughout the process.

4. Save as much as you can now. It’s never too late to save. Every dollar saved today is a dollar less you may have to borrow later. Two-thirds of states offer a state income tax deduction or tax credit based on contributions to that state’s 529 college savings plan (and in seven states, for contributions to any state’s 529 plan). In 30 states, you can take a distribution to pay for college costs in the same year you make a contribution and still receive the tax break. That’s like getting a tuition discount.

5. Search for scholarships on free scholarship matching websites like Fastweb or College Board’s Big Future. Every dollar awarded is a dollar less you’ll have to borrow. You and your child can also enter the monthly scholarship sweepstakes at CollegeAveStudentLoans.com for a chance to win $1,000 to put toward college costs.

6. Review financial aid award letters carefully. When evaluating financial aid award letters, compare your total available resources to pay for college with that school’s four-year net price. If your total resources exceed the four-year net price, the college is affordable. Resources can include savings, contributions from income and, for some families with a gap to cover, student loans. When borrowing student loans, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to not borrow more than the student’s estimated annual starting salary. If the total student loan debt at graduation is less than the student’s annual starting salary, they should be able to repay their student loans in a reasonable amount of time, 10 years or less.

7. Consider private loans. If there’s a gap between your student’s financial aid award and required expenses, you still have more options to help pay for school. To determine possible private loan interest and repayment terms, use this student loan calculator tool.

For more tips and information on planning and financing your child’s college education, visit CollegeAveStudentLoans.com.

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