Far too often (especially at this time of year) I hear from parents who have come to see me, either at a workshop or in my office, “Gee, if only I had known about you a year or two ago”. These are good folks who could have implemented strategies to better position their child for merit and need-based financial assistance, or were the recipient of misguided advice from their child’s guidance counselor and never even considered some truly excellent, but lesser-known, schools that would have been both a better fit and more generous with merit and financial aid.

It’s important that you and your child get an early start on the college process, as in 10th or 11th grade. Waiting until the summer before 12th grade, or even in the fall when application deadlines are approaching, may not only result in a bad fit college for your child, but it may also cost a family thousands of dollars (this is no exaggeration). The FAFSA and CSS Profile applications will look at the prior year’s income when evaluating your financial aid eligibility, so if your child is currently an 11th grader then you are “on the clock” now, until December 2011. The sooner you take action, the better your chances of getting a more generous financial aid award because you can avoid the “look-back” period.

Throughout the country and around South Florida, students are under tremendous pressure to do well on the SAT or ACT, to keep their grades up, to get involved in extra-curricular activities, and to complete their community service requirements. This pressure comes from within, it comes from peers, teachers and counselors, and it comes from parents. Meanwhile, parents are lying awake at night feeling the pressure of the impending college expense, often imploring their kids to search for scholarships to ease the burden. But private scholarships only represent about 2-3% of the $150 billion total amount of money available. The bulk of the money is in the need-based financial aid system, which is available to “forgotten middle class” families earning over $100,000 per year. This is where you as parents can and should take action on your own so that whatever college your child chooses can be affordable. You don’t want to have that dreaded conversation in April of 12th grade, explaining to your child that you cannot afford to send them to Top Choice U.

The good news for 10th and 11th grade parents is that I’m holding a free workshop on this subject on Tuesday, February 22, at 6:30 pm at Power Financial Credit Union in Pembroke Pines. I’ll cover:

•How Six-Figure Income earners can enjoy Five-Figure financial aid awards
•The single biggest mistake that parents make regarding Florida Pre-Paid and 529 Savings Plans
•The Top 3 “Bet The Farm” questions you must ask of every school before you even compile your list
•Why 22,000 Florida families left $22 million on the table last year
•Why it takes 5.5 years, on average, to finish college today, and how you can buck this costly trend
•Why advice from your CPA or Financial Advisor may actually cost you money for college!
•More

To register, visit www.LearnCollegeFunding.com. The event is free, but missing it and procrastinating can cost you thousands of dollars in much needed and well-deserved financial aid. I look forward to seeing you there.

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