NEWARK, Del.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Three million students-next fall's college freshmen-anxiously awaiting the results of their college financial aid applications will soon have their answers as award letters arrive in mailboxes around the country. Two-thirds of undergraduates receive some financial aid each year, with awards to full-timers averaging $12,740. As families evaluate their financial aid awards, Sallie Mae, a financial services company specializing in education, offers tips and tools to help meet the decision deadline most colleges set for early May.
"The investment in college education is among the most significant financial decisions in a family's lifetime," says Joe DePaulo, executive vice president, Sallie Mae. "Regardless of how much of the tab they plan to pick up, parents should consider all of their options before making a decision."
April is Financial Literacy Month - a perfect time for families to take stock of their education and money goals. If your financial aid, such as grants, scholarships, work-study and federal loans, comes up short, it's time to have a family conversation about how to make up the difference. Sallie Mae recommends families explore these tips for filling the gap:
Talk to the campus financial aid office if family finances have changed. Colleges can adjust their award packages when a family encounters special circumstances, such as if a parent is laid off or takes a salary cut.
Consider a private education loan that encourages you to pay it off faster and save money on interest. A private education loan may be right for those who still have a gap after exploring federal financial aid or for anyone who wants to investigate whether they qualify for a lower variable interest rate based on good credit. With Sallie Mae's Smart Option Student Loan, students attending degree-granting institutions can select from three in-school repayment options: an interest-only monthly plan, a simple $25-per-month plan, or a new no-minimum-monthly-payment-required deferred plan. Sallie Mae works with applicants and higher education institutions to help students avoid borrowing more than they need.
Use an interest-free tuition payment plan to fit college expenses into your monthly budget. Available at hundreds of college campuses, Sallie Mae administers tuition payment plans that let families spread tuition payments over a number of months instead of making a large lump-sum payment at the beginning of each semester. Visit www.salliemae.com/tuitionpay for more information.
Apply for additional scholarships. While many scholarship deadlines have passed already, some awards have late spring or summer deadlines. Using Sallie Mae's free online Scholarship Search, students and parents can quickly identify scholarships still available for the upcoming school year, including 25,000 scholarships worth $77 million with deadlines between now and the end of summer.
Earn extra money for college through Upromise by Sallie Mae. Upromise members can receive cash back when they make eligible purchases from hundreds of participating companies or use their Upromise credit card. Upromise members have earned $600 million in member rewards since 2001. Rewards accumulate in a member's Upromise account and can be transferred periodically into an eligible 529 college savings plan or used to pay down eligible Sallie Mae-serviced student loans. Beginning April 3 through June 5, Upromise members have the opportunity to earn extra rewards-of 10 percent or more-from one major online retailer each week, including Apple Store, Staples, Barnes & Noble, and Sears. Visit www.upromise.com for more information.
Sallie Mae also advises that families build a customized plan to pay for their degree, and its Education Investment Planner is a free, innovative resource available to help. By plugging in information from financial aid award letters, families can use the planner to quickly build their own plan and compare different colleges. Students can explore federal or private student loans, estimate monthly loan payments and project the starting salary needed after graduation to keep payments manageable.