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5 college funding hacks for the class of 2020

Now that the kids are back in school, many parents are likely preparing to finalize their college funding plans for their students who are on the brink of their freshman year at a college. Proactive, well-researched and thorough planning can make all of the difference when trying to minimize the amount spent each semester, year and throughout the higher education career. In addition to handling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid properly and evaluating the relatively common loans available, certain tricks can help to reduce the overall cost of college.

Here are five notable hacks for the class of 2020:

"Specialized scholarships might not be in clear sight."

1. Research major-specific financial aid opportunities
Some of the more specialized scholarships out there will not be as well-known or advertised. However, depending upon your student's major, certain opportunities might be available. For example, the Online Education Database pointed out that students who are working toward becoming teachers themselves are eligible for the $4,000 Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant, while computer science and engineering majors can apply for scholarships from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers that can amount to as much as $24,000.

2. Teach students how to be frugal
A solid portion of the total amount of money spent on college will be outside the realm of tuition. Teach your students how they can save money on some of the more common expenses of attending higher education. WiseBread suggests renting textbooks instead of purchasing them, applying to be a resident assistant, and look for family plans for basic communication and multimedia needs. Enrolling a high school student in a short personal finance course can also pay off dividends as they go through their college education. 

3. Dig deep for tuition discounts
Grants are a form of tuition discounts that might pop up on a FAFSA offer. However, institutions are increasingly active in the grant awarding process, and parents should dig deep to find any and all opportunities available through the school. Forbes noted that just under 90 percent of first-year freshman students attending private institutions received at least some discount directly from the school, citing data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The news source also suggested negotiating the grants and other discounts following the first offer. 

Smart planning can save families significant sums of cash on college. Smart planning can save families significant sums of cash on college.

4. Graduate early
Much in the way taking more than four years to complete a bachelor's degree costs 60 percent of college students immensely, finishing early can lead to massive savings. U.S. News and World Report reported that there can be some disadvantages to graduating early, such as the busier three years, the potential to skip internships and otherwise, it can save families a lot of cash. According to the news provider, one student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a state school, realized $25,000 in raw savings from graduating in three years rather than four. Consider this as a real option, and figure out what the best path for the student would entail to receive the degree in three years. 

5. Work with a college funding expert
Perhaps the greatest hack of all, working with a college funding expert can help to open your eyes to a proverbial universe of opportunities to reduce spending on college and lower the amount of debt a student faces following graduation. There is a science to college funding, especially when trying to bring the price point as low as possible, and many parents are not likely to know the processes very well. Reach out to a Smart TrackTM college funding expert to hack your student's higher education funding.