Prioritize your efforts, starting with the federal and state government. Then turn to the private sector for additional assistance. Visit finaid.org to learn about all your funding opportunities. Your local public library will also have helpful information.
Learn all you can about the college financial aid process. Be sure to meet with your financial aid administrator and/or guidance counselor. Bulletin boards outside their offices often provide information about local awards.
Submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year, even if you think you don't qualify for aid. Being rejected for federal aid is sometimes a prerequisite for private awards. Some federal aid, such as the unsubsidized Stafford Loan and the PLUS Loan, is available without regard to financial need. And who knows, you just might qualify! Don't forget to apply for federal aid as soon as possible after January 1.
Start your search for scholarships early. Some scholarships have deadlines as early as September. You can't win awards or receive funds if you miss the deadlines. The early bird always gets the worm - and sometimes the scholarship!
Tell the financial aid administrators about unusual family financial circumstances, such as elementary and secondary school tuition expenses, high medical and dental expenses not convered by insurance, unusually high child care costs, recent unemployment, death, or disability of a wage-earner, or other significant changes in the family's income and assets. They may be able to make allowances to help you. (Mention the buzz words "Professional Judgment".)
Take advantage of tuition prepayment discounts. Some colleges offer up to a 10% discount for early payment.
It is never too late to start saving for college. The more you save, the less you'll need to borrow. Aim to save 1/3 to 1/2 of your college costs. Be sure to save in the parent's name, not the child's, in order to minimize the impact on eligibility for need-based financial aid.
Investigate company-sponsored tuition plans. Many employers will invest in the education of their employees and offer assistance to the children of their employees.
Money from grandparents should be paid in your name directly to the school. This avoids gift tax liability.
Use free scholarship search engines to help you find the private sector assistance you need!