A What are the options I have for raising funds to finance college education?

College education is becoming virtually mandatory for anyone looking for steady employment or a career. There have been several studies that show that individuals with a college degree earn far more. Also, many employers are increasingly choosing college graduates to fill positions. Investing in a college degree will take a huge chunk out of any family's savings or result in a heavy student loan to pay off. Either way, the financial implications are huge and should be considered as early as possible.

Some of the strategies to better prepare for funding college education include estimating college costs; identifying savings and insurance programmes, setting spending goals for college students, working towards financial aid and scholarships, as well as identifying some sponsoring institutions. Now while these seem like very approachable options they are not so easy to get on board with and believe me, it is easier said than done.

Scholarships from universities and colleges tend to be scarce. Hence, the best place to look for financial aid for international students is the home country. In the UAE, there are a few banks that do give student loans. A good counsellor would be able to help with this.

There are various organisations that provide financial aid to students. Some of them are United World, WHO, World Council of Churches, King Faisal Foundation that gives aid to Muslim students; AMIDEAST gives grants to students from the Middle East and North Africa. However, getting help from any organisation requires advance planning as it is very competitive.

Financial institutions offer unique services from early on that would enable parents to set up savings, loan and insurance schemes to help finance college education. On the other hand, such loans would generally be available to the student while going to college given certain qualifying factors.

However, I feel international students do not research scholarships and financial aid provided by various US, Canadian and UK universities. You could, if you did your homework well, identify a few programmes and schools with good funding and flexible payment structures.

In most cases, academic excellence would be a factor, and hence more reason to make sure excellent grades are maintained in school. Also, should you get some sort of scholarship or funding from the college, you would be required to work on campus as a quid pro quo.

But it is not all gloom and doom. If you think outside the box and be innovative, you may come up with a study plan that is affordable. US college education is not as expensive as most people fear. There are many options available for nearly every student. We shall be talking about Community colleges, Co-op programmes, church-funded colleges and state universities that would not make a huge dent in your savings. Tuition fees at community colleges can be as low as $5,000 per annum and you can do your first two years there before enrolling at a university.

Remember college education is a must and often an expensive proposition. So you need to start planning as early as possible as every kid is not Bill Gates!

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Verma began his career with Ernst & Young before moving on to set up the Gulf operations of IDP Education Pty. He now leads Intelligent Partners in Dubai developing a wide range of solutions in areas of international education.

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