A Crash Course In How to Pay For College

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, November 5, 2006

During a workshop in which I was teaching preteens and teenagers how to create a budget, I asked one 16-year-old if she was planning to go to college.

"Absolutely," her mother volunteered.

And how, I asked the mother, will you pay for her college education?

"Oh, we plan on her getting scholarships," the mother responded.

What if she doesn't get any scholarships or grants? I inquired.

I got a blank stare -- like the look in the eyes of a deer that once ran into the driver's side of my van.

The mother's look told me what she later admitted -- that she didn't have a penny saved to send her daughter to college.

Many parents and their children approach the college process much like that deer running into the road. They just dart out there and hope for the best.

Given how much a college education costs, you need to plan ahead and know how to navigate the twists and turns of the financial aid process. That way, you and your child can avoid being hit with a tuition bill that can cause serious damage to your financial future.

To help you get started, for the next few months I will be recommending several guides to read for the Color of Money Book Club.

This month I've chosen two books. The first is "FastWeb College Gold: The Step-by-Step Guide to Paying for College," by Mark Kantrowitz with Doug Hardy (Collins, $21.95). Kantrowitz is a financial aid expert and publisher of FinAid Page LLC ( http://www.finaid.org/ ). Hardy is general manager and editor-in-chief of Monster Careers ( http://www.monstercareers.com/ ). (By the way, http://www.fastweb.com/ is one of the leading sites for information about scholarships.)

The second book is the 2007 edition of "Paying for College Without Going Broke" by Kalman A. Chany with Geoff Martz (Random House and Princeton Review, $20). Chany is founder and president of New York-based Campus Consultants Inc.

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