If there’s a high school senior or college student in your family, you may be thinking about how to pay for college or trade school. Coast Guard families, like all military families, face unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to financing higher education. Here are four important things you need to know about paying for college:
Budget and plan ahead: Paying for college can be stressful. To start, consider all expenses, including tuition, housing, textbooks, and living costs. Factor in your family's income, savings, and any financial aid you expect to receive. Look into setting up a 529 plan, which is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed for future education costs.
Consider how/if you will transfer your military benefits to pay for your child’s higher education: The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, for example, can cover tuition and fees, housing, and an annual stipend for books and supplies. Need more information on eligibility and how to access this education benefit? The Coast Guard’s personnel services division offers some guidance on its website, answering many questions you may have on this funding option.
Compare financial aid packages: One size does not fit all; choosing a college is a combination of academics and extra-curricular considerations. Equally important is the cost of the school. Carefully consider each college’s financial aid package. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid. Colleges may offer both need-based and merit-based scholarships and grants, which can reduce your total out-of-pocket expenses.
Research scholarships and grants: Look for scholarships and grants, including those specifically designed for military dependents. Additionally, some colleges offer scholarships or discounts for military families, so research your options and apply for as many as possible. Your student’s high school may have a database of local and state-wide scholarships. Also consider using a scholarship search tool like the U.S. Department of Labor’s free tool to identify other scholarship opportunities that may match your student’s education goals.
The Coast Guard Foundation offers scholarships for children of active-duty and retired Coast Guard members. You can apply for a CGF scholarship during the application open period: February 1 -- April 1. Currently, scholarships range from $2,500 -- $5,000 annually, and students who meet the eligibility requirements can apply for all four years of college. Set a reminder for February 1 and bookmark coastguardfoundation.org/apply for the application details.