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Nearing college

Nearing college means getting serious about an action plan. Whether you're planning a return to school for yourself or a child, you can take steps to map out the road ahead.

Become college-ready

When it comes to getting ready for the next phase, there's a lot of work that comes before college even begins. Sort it all out one step at a time so you can put your best foot forward.

College exams:

Taking the SAT or ACT? Ace it by studying hard, taking practice tests, checking your timing and focusing on your weak spots. You can even take courses for free or minimal cost to help boost your test score.

College essays:

Nearly every college requires you to submit a college essay as part of your application. Think of it as your chance to set yourself apart and show that you're more than a number. Learn what goes into writing a well-crafted essay that communicates who you really are.

Compare colleges:

Choosing a college may be one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. With thousands of colleges available, you can find the right fit by talking with high school guidance counselors about your major and career goals, searching online for colleges and touring campuses to get a taste of student life.

College applications:

Understanding the application process, paying fees and meeting admission deadlines — it all takes time and effort. That's why it's good to do some research on which schools interest you beforehand. Once you narrow down your choices, consider applying early to help tip the scale in your favor.

Sharpen your college planning goals

As college nears, you should have a realistic picture of how much aid you'll receive to offset the cost of tuition. Take a look at your income and calculate the amount you may need to set aside monthly. Then start building a budget and practice solid savings habits. Revisit our College Planning Calculator to monitor your progress and track your savings goals.

Tip: Look for more ways to save

College savings tip
Take a close look at your expenses — you may be able to cut back without making major lifestyle changes. Try making different choices and putting extra money aside instead of spending it.

Consider financial aid, grants & scholarships

There's no single way to pay for college. Parents usually pay only 28% of the total bill from income and savings, and borrow about 9% — the rest comes from other sources. From grants and scholarships to financial aid, you can access a wide range of options to reduce your share of out-of-pocket costs.

Financial aid:

Free money is out there, but do you know where to start? Whether you're applying for merit-based scholarships or need-based assistance, the first step is to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Grants and scholarships:

Grants and scholarships are the best form of financial aid because they don't have to be repaid. Most of this federal gift money comes from the federal government through the Pell Grant program, but colleges, private foundations and companies also award scholarships.

Borrow with care

While it's cheaper to save than borrow, student loans can be an important tool to help close any gaps between your savings and the cost of tuition. If paying cash for college means skimping on another financial priority — like your retirement savings — student loans can help. Some, like Sallie Mae's Smart Option Student Loan, allow you to begin paying off the interest while you're still in college. Start exploring different types of loans to find the one that's right for you.

Manage college finances with your child

By maintaining good study habits, taking college preparatory classes, commuting and setting aside money from part-time jobs, your child can play a vital role in financing college costs. Equip your child with the right resources so they can be more actively involved in planning for their future.
How much should you be saving for college?
Life events
Prepare for common events related to this stage of your life, like:
Ready to get started?
Please remember there's always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities. Before you invest in a Section 529 plan, request the plan's official statement from your Financial Solutions Advisor and read it carefully. The official statement contains more complete information, including investment objectives, charges, expenses and risks of investing in the 529 plan, which you should consider carefully before investing. You should also consider whether your home state or your beneficiary's home state offers any state tax or other state benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds and protection against creditors that are only available for investments in such state's 529 plan. Section 529 plans are not guaranteed by any state or federal agency.

Merrill, its affiliates, and financial advisors do not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.