Author: Kristin Ageton, Director of College Access, EducationQuest

Celebrate our nation’s freedom by creating your own path toward independence! Start by taking steps now to save for higher education. This will help you avoid significant student loan debt and have more financial freedom in the future.

Both EducationQuest and NEST 529 make higher education more obtainable by providing resources and guidance on how to achieve your savings goals. Here are our top tips:

Save!

Saving small amounts of money now can lead to big money for college later. Get a part-time job, save a portion of birthday cash from grandma and avoid expensive coffee, designer shoes—even the candy bar in the check-out line. Saving just $50 a month over three years equates to $1,800. Save that amount over six years, and you’ll have $3,600 in the bank, and that’s without counting the compounded interest earned with a NEST 529 College Savings Plan account.

NEST 529 has tools that simplify saving for college including automatic contributions and withdrawals, easy online access, gifting programs, scholarships, and a wide range of investment options. Read more about the benefits here.

Score College Credit in High School.

Dual Credit and Advanced Placement courses allow students to experience college coursework and earn college credit, usually at a reduced cost. It’s becoming more common for students to start college with several college courses already completed. Ask your child’s counselor about courses at their high school.

Don’t Assume a Scholarship is an Easy Ride.

When I ask someone how they plan to pay for college, they typically answer “scholarships.” The thing is, you have to prepare early to have a shot at earning them.

Start by exploring with your child the types of scholarships they’ll be eligible to apply for. The NEST 529 Scholarships page, school counselors, prospective colleges and EducationQuest are good places to start. Don’t avoid small scholarships; they can really add up and usually have fewer applicants. Consider the fact that three $250 scholarships may buy your books for a year!

Getting involved in activities, volunteering and getting good grades are common criteria for scholarship providers. Encourage your child to build an Activities Resume starting in ninth grade to prepare for scholarship applications. If you plan to pay for higher education with an athletic scholarship, know these top myths first.

Learn About Financial Aid.

There are ways to pay for college beyond scholarships. Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) during your child’s senior year of high school could qualify you for grants, work-study and loans. Learn more about paying for college at EducationQuest.org.

Know the Plan.

Your next step: have a family discussion about paying for higher education using this college savings discussion guide. You’ll experience peace of mind when you and your child are on board with expectations for paying and planning for their academic future.

Stay on Track.

Sign up for EducationQuest’s Countdown2College to get monthly email messages with college-prep tips. High school juniors and seniors in particular should follow this guide. Knowing the steps you need to take is the ultimate feeling of independence because there are no surprises.

While you enjoy the fireworks and hot dogs this 4th of July, also feel confident about the financial freedom you’ll create by getting a head start on paying for higher education. Are you interested in learning more about EducationQuest? Visit www.educationquest.org.

For more information about NEST 529, visit www.nest529direct.com. If you have questions, contact clientservice@nest529direct.com or 1.888.993.3746.