Factored into what colleges you should apply to, and, ultimately, which college to attend, must be the cost of four or more years of higher education. [How's that money tree doing?]

So, how does one cut through that seemingly bottomless pit of calculating the true cost of college, let alone comparing the bottom line of one college to another? And, once the cost of college is revealed, where does one find the funds to foot the bill?

First Step, College Cost Calculators.
 All colleges are required to post what is commonly known as a Net Price Calculator on their websites. Often conspicuously displayed on the Financial Aid page (though sometimes buried under last Thursday's dining hall menu. Are you going to finish that taco?), these calculators, with some basic input by student and/or parent, will give you a pretty good guesstimate of what your wallet is in for.

In addition to individual college
 Net Price Calculators (find many just a mouse click away, courtesy of the links provided by U.S. News & World Report), the feds provide a means of determining net price via the Net Price Calculator Center. CollegeData.com also has a nifty college price calculator.

Why, even our good friends and yours, College Board (the folks who charge you just for thinking about your SAT scores) offer their own
Student Net Price Calculator -- and it's FREE! [Don't worry. They'll get their hands on your money, somehow!]

Okay. So you have a decent idea how much college is going to cost (somebody get the smelling salts). Once you've recovered from the sticker shock, how are you going to pay for tuition, room and board, transportation, and those all-important fraternity dues?

Show me the money!
 A good place to start is to know what you are likely to get in terms of federal aid. This includes grants, work-study, and, of course, those infamous student loans.

While you cannot submit your
 FAFSA (and you should submit your FAFSA, which, for almost every college, is your basic application for financial aid of any kind, including internal scholarships) until January of the year you are starting college (2015 for current high school seniors; 2016 for juniors), you can get an estimate of how much aid you are likely to receive by using the FAFSA4caster. [Where's Al Roker when you need him?]

Nothing etched in stone, mind you, each college having it's own bizarre and undisclosed formula for determining your financial aid award, your
EFC (Expected Family Contribution) notwithstanding, but at least a starting point for putting the pieces of the financial aid puzzle together.

Choose Scholarships, Not Loans!
 Most colleges will offer you a financial aid "package" (the so called Award) consisting of a combination of one or more of the following: Scholarships, grants, tuition discounts, work-study, and loans. Always go for the financial freedom of free money (money you never have to pay back) before you load up on student loan debt.

That means scholarships, grants, and work-study move to the head of the line. Find such sources of funding your college education on the websites of the colleges you are interested in. Note the requirements for college-specific scholarships. Be mindful of deadlines. And
 APPLY, APPLY, APPLY. [Note: Many schools have their own financial aid forms that must be completed and submitted before you will even be considered for aid, this in addition to FAFSA and, where required, the dreaded CSS Profile. DO NOT LEAVE MONEY ON THE TABLE by neglecting the paperwork!]

Beyond Fastweb.
 Aside from money that may come from colleges themselves, the feds, or your late great Uncle Money Bags who remembered you in his Will, there's those pesky little things that can add up to big bucks known as outside scholarships. From Fastweb to Zinch, Cappex to Scholarships.com, there's a wealth (literally) of free money out there, available for the taking. 

Of course, you actually have to search for the scholarships that you may qualify for, and, yes,
 APPLY, APPLY, APPLY! [It's not as if Ed McMahon is going to appear at your door with a giant check for $10,000,000 in hand! (We know. Who's Ed McMahon?).]

And remember,
 scholarships are not just something high school seniors should be looking for! In college already? As long as there is a tuition bill on the horizon, APPLY, APPLY, APPLY! High school junior, sophomore, or even freshman? There are college scholarships you can apply for, right now. [And with fewer students applying, your chances of getting your hands on that money is greatly improved.] APPLY, APPLY, APPLY!

Save and invest!
 I am often astonished at just how many parents have not even heard of college savings plans (529 plans), let alone chosen to invest in them. OMG! 

529 Plans are fantastic vehicles for saving for college, and they provide valuable tax benefits as well. Easy to set up and contribute to. A no brainer. Check out
 New York's Direct College Savings Plan at www.NYsaves.org.

 Still time to refer a friend, classmate, colleague to College Connection. [Deadline extended to November 28th.] For each referral, you will not only receive my gratitude, but a chance to win $500 in cold, hard cash! It doesn't get any easier than that!!!

Look. When it comes to paying for college, you could take the advice of that Mitt Romney fella and "borrow money from your parents, if you have to," or, you can be a savvy consumer, do your homework, and with just a bit of guidance, foresight, planning and diligence, get the money you need to pay for the college that is the "best" fit for you!

Finding the college financial aid process daunting? Confused and frustrated by the college scholarship search? Need some sage advice and a helping hand? [We thought you'd never ask!]

Have no fear.
 The College Whisperer™ is here! [That would be me.] Call. Email. Text. Smoke Signal (smoke signal rates may apply). Let's line up the ducks (or turduckens, if you prefer) and lay those fears of college financing to rest!

Gee, it's almost Thanksgiving. Cue the cranberry mold! Leftover stuffing and pumpkin pie? You know where to find me...

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Call  COLLEGE CONNECTION today at 516-345-8766 and let us help you successfully navigate the road to college!
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At COLLEGE CONNECTION, We've Got Your Back. And Your Best Moves Forward!

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