50 Top Colleges for African Americans

Our exclusive ranking yielded some surprises and some staples. And this year, after we show you the best schools, we take a comprehensive look at how to make college affordable.

go to a high-cost school, apply for it. But also apply for financial aid and do it before the deadline. In addition, apply to other schools that may be more affordable so that when you get your acceptance letters and financial aid letters, you can review your options.

Family Financing
For parents Karen and Derek Adams, paying for their daughter’s college education was less about choice than about duty. A native of Trinidad, Derek was sent by his parents to Howard University to get an education and pursue a better life. It would make perfect sense that he would do the same for his only child, Brittany, a 20-year-old junior at Hampton University.

“When she was born, I started putting money away every paycheck through savings bonds. At the time, I worked at a bank, so they allowed me to make automatic deductions,” says Derek, a 45-year-old senior vice president of information systems and technology at PRG Schultz.

His plan was simple: first save $50 per paycheck, then $100, and eventually up to $150 per paycheck. He did that diligently from 1986 to 2003, saving $54,000 in after-tax dollars. “You’d be amazed at the power of compounding,” he says. Derek kept the money in savings bonds for years before transferring it into a 529 plan.

Even if you didn’t start saving early like the Adamses, there are creative ways to finance your child’s education.

Here are some practical things you can do to offset the high cost of college:
Have your child take the SAT early. Since there are more merit awards than need-based awards, students have to take the SAT seriously. Most money is given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the earlier your child takes the SAT, the better the chance to receive an award.

Send your child to the school’s summer program. Some colleges offer high school students summer enrichment programs prior to admittance. It’s a great way for the student to get to know faculty and financial aid administrators and become a more appealing candidate.

Know the types of aid prospective colleges offer. When visiting a campus, stop by the financial aid office. Also search the financial aid section of the school’s Website, call and request information, or speak to a financial aid counselor.

Be clear about your financial situation. “Schools want to see how financially savvy you are,” says Sterling Laylock, the Adamses’ Atlanta-based financial adviser. “At some universities, parents must answer hundreds of questions that are at the discretion of the school.” Those questions, which include the cost of your mortgage, allocation of investments, and make and model of your car, can weigh heavily on the type of financial aid you receive.

If you start early, a good place to begin is with a savings plan. No matter which plan you choose, keep it in your name so you control the money. Also, if the money is in the child’s name, it may make him or her less eligible for aid.

Here’s a quick breakdown of your options:
The 529 Plan is an attractive savings

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