Navigating the finances of college

Security Services Federal Credit UnionWith the new rules for Texas education, teenagers will be asked to start preparing for their career track as soon as they hit high school. But going to college comes with a price tag, and paying for college can be one of the toughest parts of earning a degree. Committed to helping students and parents navigate the labyrinth is Security Service Federal Credit Union (SSFCU).

SSFCU scholars

“The process doesn’t have to be difficult,” says Letha Harrelson, who heads up SSFCU’s outreach programs. “You just want to keep a few things in mind. Namely that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

According to Harrelson, there are multiple tracks to an affordable college education (with affordable being the key word):

  • Work Study: a federally– funded program in the United States, the Federal Work Study Program helps students earn financial funding through a part-time work program. The funds can be used at approximately 3,400 participating institutions.
  • Employer-funded education: some companies offer tuition reimbursement or assistance for job-related education and training.
  • Delayed education: waiting until you are 24 years of age to attend college qualifies a student as independent. This means you are no longer required to claim your parents’ income on the application for federal aid.
  • Degree selection: pursuing one’s passion is important, but so is pursuing a degree along a pathway where your chances of being employed are high.
  • College selection: consider researching colleges not just on rank and degree, but also on average student debt load. The average student debt load in 2012 was $29,400, but at Princeton, for example, it dropped to just over $5,000.

If your student is starting college in the Fall, you need to fill your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) form online right away, says Harrelson. Grants are offered on a first come, first served basis, and online applications opened up January 1. Another tip for high schoolers…set a scholarship goal…consider filling out 40 to 50 applications by Thanksgiving of your student’s junior year.

Security Service Federal Credit Union awards $2,500 scholarships to 20 outstanding high school seniors each year. Deadline for application is November 1, 2014. Details are online at