Go to college for free? Here's how

Putting one kid through college is daunting enough, Bernice Feaster had two. But she never once wrote a check to pay for their school. Scholarships paid for their tuition, room and board and everything else.  

“Between two sons,” Feaster says, “We did about 1 point 6 million dollars, between the two.” 

She started her college funding research with Jeremy, her first born. Starting in middle school, she began attending workshops, looking up college blogs, and educating herself on finding financial resources. Her hard work paid off. 

“By the time he was 26, he had his phD at Stanford,” she says. “He walked out of Stanford owing no money and actually had money in the bank.”

Younger son Jalen was just as fortunate, earning a full ride to NC State. 

“He beat out the valedictorian. So I tell kids you don’t have to have this super 5. 8 GPA to get scholarships. It’s just how you present yourself and market yourself,” she says. 

Feaster turned her experience and accumulated knowledge into a new business, The Scholar Mom. She and her husband work with families to find scholarships and other sources of funding. She says the money is out there, lots of it. Feaster is partnering with FOX 46 to get parents results when it comes to college funding. 

START EARLY
Feaster says the key is to start early. Talk to your child about what they’re hoping to study. They may even have a few dream colleges in mind already. Then, research the schools together to make sure you understand the requirements when it comes to minimum GPA, SAT scores and community service. Use this information to begin building a strong resume that, come time to apply, makes them stand out and appear good candidates for scholarships and grants. 

Bernice recommends contacting your kids’ dream schools directly. 

“Develop a relationship with these financial aid people. And say, what else is available that i can tap into that i might not know that may not be on your website.” It’s even better when your child contacts the school as well, she says. “Make sure the school knows how interested you are in going to that school. That just speaks volumes.” 

HIT THE BOOKS
Your child should be willing to commit to working hard and earning good grades. A perfect 5.0 GPA is not required but strong grades are a must when it comes to contending for scholarships.

“Encourage them to take honors and AP classes. But emphasize character and community service as well.”

A good question to pose to your child and continue asking through their high school years: What’s so unique about them that they can bring to the table that their dream school may want. 

FINANCIAL CLARITY
As for parents, Mike Russell with The College Funding Coach says it starts with financial clarity. 

“They need to identify which resources they have available to them. First and foremost that’s looking at what they have on their personal balance sheet. And what they’re able to set aside from a funding standpoint.”

It’s a good time to invest in a 529 and see what kinds of financial aid, including Pell grants, they qualify for. 

“You don’t have to wait until your child is a senior to start searching for those and applying for them,” says Russell. “We’ve had many clients who’ve had awards given to them for middle school science fairs. Or through their parents employer.”

WHAT IF YOU START LATE?
If your child is about to graduate, it’s not too late. You may need loans to start but keep searching for scholarships. There are many available through the department in which your child is studying, or through community service and leadership activities. 

DON’T RAID THE RETIREMENT FUND
Both Feaster and Russell agree: it’s a terrible idea to raid your 401K. Preserve your future even if it means your kids must take out loans. There is plenty of financial aid available if you know where to look. For more information, you can contact Feaster at The Scholar Share or Russell at The College Funding Coach. 

Quick tips:
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL:
•    Look into starting a 529 account to save for college

MIDDLE SCHOOL: 
•    Start the scholarship search
•    Begin researching your child’s dream colleges and their requirements
•    Review your financial assets and determine how much you can pay for college
•    Work with your child to bring up or maintain their grades
•    Encourage and support your child’s extracurricular activities, especially community service

HIGH SCHOOL:    
•    Continue searching out scholarships
•    Get to know your child’s college counselor 
•    Review financial aid options, including Pell grants
•    Encourage your child to take AP or IB classes to boost their GPA and college credits
•    Encourage and support your child’s extracurricular activities, especially community service

Link to Scholar Mom: http://thescholarmom.com/ 

Link to The College Funding Coach: https://www.thecollegefundingcoach.org/