7 Tips to Prepare for College Finances


For moms of teens, I know college planning is a huge task and can be pretty daunting. That’s something I hope to help with! I have worked as a high school counselor, an advisor to single parent college students, and now I am a student success coordinator for a local nonprofit, Evolve502. I have lived and breathed college access for years now, and I hope to share just a little bit of what I know to help make this process a little easier.

  1. FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the hurdle A LOT of students seem to never make it over on the journey to college. So, to answer the questions before you even ask….Yes, your kiddos really do need access to your tax information. No, they probably can’t complete the FAFSA without it. No, no one is going to steal your identity. Here are the down and dirty deets:
    • The FAFSA for the next school year opens on October 1 every single year. Do it early and don’t forget!
    • You need what they call “prior prior year” taxes. All that means is that when you do the FAFSA when it opens in the fall, you will use the taxes you just filed the latest tax season.
    • I know it’s confusing to know which taxes and which year FAFSA to do. If you have a current high school senior who plans to start college in the Fall of 2022, you will need to complete the 2022-23 FAFSA that opens on October 1, 2021. You will use your 2020 taxes that you filed in spring of 2021.
    • There is actually a super handy dandy tool called the Tax Retrieval Tool embedded in the FAFSA. You can just pull your tax info over from the IRS into the FAFSA. I personally use this every year for my FAFSA for graduate school.

2. Know the different types of financial aid.

    • Student loans: This is the type of “aid” you have to pay back! Proceed with caution!!!! This should always be your last resort when funding college. There are two types of loans too — subsidized (you don’t get charged any interest until you graduate or stop going to school) and unsubsidized (interest starts accruing immediately, even while you’re in school). My two general rules if taking out student loans: Always choose subsidized first and know that you do not have the borrow the full amount of loan you are offered!!!
    • Grants: This is FREE MONEY that you never have to pay back. It is usually need based, given to students from lower incomes. Examples in Kentucky include Pell grants and CAP grants.
    • Work Study: Students agree to work for a set wage to go toward their tuition. To be eligible, be sure to check the box on your FAFSA that you are interested in work study. (They will not force you to do a work study if you check this box, so select it even if you just want the option.)
    • Scholarships: Scholarships are also FREE MONEY! Examples that all students are probably familiar with include your KEES money for public school students. There are scholarships offered by specific colleges, community organizations, athletic associations, and just about everywhere you can think and for just about everything you can think. More on how to find scholarships later!

3. Make a list of your top 5-10 colleges.

Whatever you do, please don’t only apply to one school. Have a list of schools you might want to attend and include some “reach” or dream schools, some attainable schools, and what my high school counselor always called “safety” schools. For some, that might mean somewhere you know you can afford and with others it just means somewhere you know you can get accepted. Talk about what reach and safety schools look like for your family and student.

4. Don’t discount trade school.

Traditional college isn’t for everyone and you don’t have to have a two or four year traditional degree to make a good living. Have you ever had to hire an electrician or a plumber on a holiday weekend?? Those hourly rates are insane!

5. Start early.

Taking time to visit college campuses if you are able, take advantage of college recruiters visiting your high school or local college fairs, and tracking down schools with programs that align with your interests and passions are all important. That takes time!

6. Keep track of all your deadlines.

This is yours to own, not your parents or counselors. This is where all that Google work during the pandemic will come in handy. Put together a quick spreadsheet with colleges, their application deadline, scholarship deadlines, and contact information so it’s all in one place. Also be sure to ask any teachers or friends for letters of recommendation at least two weeks before they are due!

7. Scholarships.

Start the search early and do it often. Some of my favorite places to look include FastWeb, Louisville Community Foundation, and literally just googling “scholarships to apply for in [insert current month].” Ask about scholarships offered by the companies where you and your family members work. Your school counselor should be providing information about local scholarship opportunities as well. If you are interested in attending KCTCS, look into the Evolve502 scholarship for a free associates degree for all JCPS class of 2022 graduates.

Here are a few local resources to keep in mind as you start this journey:

KCAC is a one-stop shop for help with everything from college searches and applications to the FAFSA and scholarship information.

KHEAA representatives are the experts in all things financial aid. They can help with the FAFSA, answer questions about KEES money, and so much more!

Evolve502 is the scholarship program I mentioned earlier. All JCPS students should consider applying, even if they don’t think community college is their path right now. It’s always good to have that “safety” option.

College applications and financial aid can be daunting on the to do list. Break the process down into tiny, bite-sized pieces so you can chip away at it a little at a time. Do not be afraid to ask for help, because this process is not intuitive all the time! Good luck!!!


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