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I now appreciate what mother birds must feel when their babies take their first flight. It is a long way down when they leap out of that nest and for mother bird it’s the most stressful moment waiting to see if they take flight or plummet to the ground. Source: NLG

That is exactly how I felt the day we took our daughter to college and dropped her off.

You see, my husband and I are overly protective of our children – I believe the term is “Helicopter Parents.” Look it up and see if you are one too! As helicopter parents we have to work extra hard at giving our children the freedom they need to make their own choices. Our instinct to protect them is so strong.

I remember going to the meetings at high school to prepare students and parents for college. They said to “let the child make the decisions.” It was very hard for us to do this, but we did and although she took a couple twists and turns to find her path, she is now in the degree program that she loves and sees her future in. I know we would like to think that we know what’s best for our children, but sometimes our children know what’s best for themselves.

To add to our turmoil, our daughter was a “First Generation” and our first child going to college – needless to say, not having gone to college ourselves, and never having sent a kid to college, we didn’t have a clue what to expect. This created a whole new level of stress for us.

Not sure of what to do or where to start, we turned to the experts–our high school guidance office. They have been through this many times and can provide guidance and access to all the information you will need. High schools usually hold college prep meetings for parents and students so make sure to attend one.

Once you figure out which college – then comes paying for it. The first step is to review the college acceptance offer. Once you know the final cost that you and your child will be responsible for it is time to get busy looking for other money. It is at this point of the process that you are most at risk of coming unglued.

You emotionally have to accept that this is reality – your child is on the edge of the nest poised for flight. The college is giving you costs equivalent to buying a new car every year for the next four years and they want their deposit. You’re thinking where is the money going to come from? How do I even know if I can get the money? What if I can’t afford to send my child here – I’m going to break her heart and I will have failed as a parent. One way to prevent this crisis moment is to plan ahead, but of course I didn’t – my excuse: “time just flew by.”

Starting Senior year in high school, have your child apply for every grant and scholarship that matches your student’s background and future degree program (or what they think their future degree will be). You just never know who might give you money. I will say spending time applying for local scholarships paid off better for my daughter than the national and state level scholarships. Look for different scholarships offered in your own hometown that aren’t always advertised. Think about credit unions, local businesses, private family scholarships, churches, associations and clubs.

You will find out real quick that if you make any money at all, you probably won’t qualify for grants and you will be applying for loans – unless you are one of those smart foturnate people who planned in advance and started saving early and has accumulated enough cash. I wish we had done that, and if you still have time I encourage you to. We unfortunately were too busy living our life with small children, and paying bills, that it just slipped our minds and before you knew it, it was time to drop her off at college.

In the end, if you have to take loans, the process is relatively easy. I heard so many complaints from other parents about how difficult the Free Applicaton for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form was, but I did not find it difficult at all. Just remember, to do it as soon as you file your tax return in the year you are applying. This means you need to complete the FAFSA in February or March even though the student doesn’t start school until August or September. Once your student gets their FASFA award, you’ll then know how much is left to pay.

If you are going to take loans for the remaining portion, you can shop different loan programs for the best terms and rates, and there is always the PLUS loans that are federal loans for parents with undergraduate students.

Now, take these tips that apply to your situation, have confidence, take a deep breath and let your own chickling take flight.

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