7 College Planning Tools to Prepare, Save, and Pay for College

Two students working together to plan for college.

Preparing for college is one of the most exciting times in a high school senior’s life. It’s also one of the most stressful. There’s a lot of thought and preparation that goes into college. We want to make getting ready for college as simple and painless as possible for both seniors and their parents. Here are some college planning tools that can make preparing, saving, and paying for college easier than ever. What’s more, they’re all free!

1. Financial Calculators

One of the most important parts of preparing for college is saving for college. One of the best ways to do this is with a 529 plan. 529 plans are state-sponsored, tax-advantaged savings vehicles designed to make saving for college easier and more effective for families. They’re a wonderful way to save for college and make your money work for you and your future.

A terrific tool that parents can find through many 529 plans is a handy-dandy financial calculator. These calculators are a great way to see how much families should save for school. They also provide an estimate of how you can expect to see your savings grow.

2. Scholarship Searches

Do you know a great way to pay for college? It’s with free money! Scholarships are among the best, and most affordable, ways to find money for school. Of course, it’s like they say, “You can’t get what you don’t ask for.” The most important part of scholarships is filling out the applications. It doesn’t take that long, and there are all kinds of scholarships out there. Let’s say it takes your senior an hour to fill out a scholarship application. In one day, a student could find apply to more than $5,000 worth of scholarships. Not bad for a day’s work.

The sad thing is that many seniors don’t know where to begin when it comes to scholarships. There are so many out there. How do seniors know which to apply for and when the deadlines are? Thankfully, there are scholarship searches online that tell students the amount, deadlines, and qualifications for each scholarship. You can find scholarships based on your background, where you’re from, your prospective major, sports, clubs, community organizations, and much more. Students just need to start looking.

3. Financial Aid and FAFSA Maps

Speaking of scholarships, there is all sorts of financial aid available to students and families. Most of this financial aid is made available through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is a senior’s first step toward financial aid. It’s how seniors qualify for grants, scholarships, work-study programs, federal loans, and more.

Given how important it is, the number of people that don’t complete the FAFSA may surprise you. A ten-year study showed that 35 percent of respondents did not fill out the FAFSA. Many thought they didn’t need financial aid or that they may be ineligible. Others didn’t have enough information or found the process intimidating. The good news is that there is free assistance available to help families with financial aid. There are also free services online to help you find them! Parents and seniors can use online interactive maps to find financial aid and FAFSA completion assistance near them.

4. Financial Literacy Tools

Another helpful college planning tool actually goes beyond college. This tool teaches people lessons that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. We’re talking about financial literacy. An article by Inc. found that 96 percent of Americans are unable to pass a basic financial literacy quiz. It’s not because people aren’t smart. It’s because no one took the time to teach them the financial basics.

Learning the basics of financial literacy goes a long way to helping students be successful in college and beyond. That’s what makes free financial literacy courses so helpful! The courses are for both parents and students. They teach the basics of budgeting, how credit cards and bank accounts work, and how to build credit.

5. College Checklists

There’s a lot that goes into planning for college. You need to keep track of deadlines, study, research scholarships, take your standardized tests, and more. It can be difficult to keep track of everything. College planning checklists are one of the best college planning tools you can find to explain everything you need to know in one handy guide.

Starting with freshman year, a good college checklist details what students need to be doing to set themselves up for success when it comes to applying for college. That means knowing when to create your free CFNC account, sign up for clubs, and start studying for the SAT and ACT. Print off two checklists, one for parents and one for students, and keep it somewhere you know you will see it to ensure you stay on track.

6. Free Test Prep

Many colleges require that students take either the SAT or ACT to be considered for admission. The better your score, the more competitive your application will be for the most selective schools. These tests are no cakewalk. Studying and developing the right strategies for standardized tests goes a long way toward improving scores.

Private tutoring can be an effective way to study for standardized tests. It can also be expensive. Luckily for parents and students, there are lots of free resources available to help you prepare. Students can find all sorts of SAT and ACT test-prep tools including sample questions, practice tests, and study tips to get them ready. Students can also find vocabulary builders and links to other helpful test-prep sources.

7. Admissions Deadline Lists

Staying on top of deadlines is one of the most important parts of preparing for college. All the preparation in the world doesn’t amount to much if you don’t submit applications on time. Still, between test dates, financial aid deadlines, scholarship deadlines, early decision admissions deadlines, and regular decision deadlines, there’s a lot to keep track of! As if that wasn’t enough, many colleges have completely different deadlines for applications.

Admissions deadline lists are valuable college planning tools that detail everything from early action to regular decision admissions deadlines. These lists are also printable so parents and students can put them somewhere noticeable (like a fridge or calendar). Print out your list today to ensure your student stays mindful of admissions deadlines.

Take Advantage of the Tools You Need to Succeed

Getting ready for college can feel overwhelming. It’s important that parents and students know they aren’t alone. With all of the different college planning tools available for free, you can find everything they need, and you don’t have to pay for it. Families should begin the process at CFNC to help them plan, apply, and pay for college.