If your teenager is a high school senior, beware of unsolicited invitations from friendly strangers.
The typical invitation urges parents to attend a free college seminar where they will discover the secrets to finding scholarships and financial aid. I've gotten plenty of these invitations myself. If you also receive one in the mail, here is my advice: rip it up.
The sponsors of these seminars aren't interested in sharing free college advice. They are often trolling for customers who will pay them to complete financial aid forms including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The only thing parents will receive for free is the marketing pitch.
While I was touring colleges in the Midwest last week with my son Ben, I heard a financial aid officer at Lawrence University warn parents about these folks. She said an unemployed mom approached her during a college night, who was contemplating paying $1,300 to someone to help her navigate the financial aid process. The financial aid officer urged the woman to save her money. In fact, she offered to help even though the woman's child wasn't interested in attending Lawrence.
This sort of generosity was news to me. I didn't know financial aid officers would help parents with no connection to a school. I don't know how common that is, but I do know that financial aid offices will assist parents whose children are applying to their colleges. Another excellent free resource is the U.S. Department of Education, which is the source of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Colleges are too expensive to waste money needlessly. Stick with reliable sources of financial aid and scholarship information and don't use your checkbook until it's necessary.
Further Reading:How Rich Kids Get College Aid
A Handy College Admission Cheat Sheet
How Financial Aid Formulas Rip Off Parents on the Coasts
The Best Colleges You've Never Heard Of
Six Great College Websites Document image by elfis gallery. CC 2.0.