If you want to enter college in September, it's still not too late to make it -- if you do your homework in the next two weeks. After that, your options are reduced.
There are more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Only the top 200, say authorities, are so competitive that being accepted can be difficult. Not even a shortage of money should stop you. More than $28 billion in student aid is available to those who qualify, and to qualify may be easier than you think.
You needn't even worry about the impact of the faltering economy, says Arthur Hauptman of Washington, D.C., a consultant to major education organizations and institutions. The recession is unlikely to reduce the amount of financial assistance available to students. There is a big upswing, he says, in the aid available from the public sector. Yet, even if the recession is prolonged and the total state-provided aid is not increased, the available funds are ample.
There is a "disturbing information gap about the cost and financing of a college education," according to Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, a nonprofit educational association. "Many students and parents have no idea how much college actually costs or how much of those costs they'll be expected to pay," he comments. "When it comes to paying for college, ignorance is never bliss."
In a 1988 survey, 28 percent of respondents who did not go to college said they didn't have enough money. And 64 percent of those respondents also thought "they could not receive financial aid for an expensive private college if their parents could afford to send them to a state college." In fact, Stewart reports, higher priced colleges usually have more financial aid available and use more of their own funds for aid.
If you've decided to apply, your first stop should be your high school guidance office, even if you've been out of high school for a year or more. In addition to advice, you can receive a free copy of the booklet Meeting College Costs and complete and submit a needs analysis document called the Financial Aid Form (FAF).
Kathleen Brouder of the College Board recommends these steps:
* Request information about financial aid and alternative financing plans from all colleges being considered.
* Consult books like The College Cost Book for information about college costs and financial planning. Ask at your local library or guidance office. Other sources of information:
For a wide-ranging overview of the subject, an attractive 32-page booklet, Financing a College Education, is available. Send $1.25 with your name and address to Money Management Institute, Household International, 2700 Sanders Road, Prospect Heights, Ill. 60070.
The College Board has developed an interactive computer software program, College Cost Explorer, that provides detailed information on how financial aid works plus ways to meet college costs. The program takes into account room and board, books, supplies and personal expenses as well as tuition. It is available for $49.95 for Apple or IBM and compatible systems from software retailers. Or it may be ordered by mail from College Board Publications, Dept. P20, Box 886, New York N.Y. 10101-0886.
Be prepared to stretch yourself, advises the College Board. Even if your share of the costs is only 5 percent, you or your family may not be able to come up with the money. Or the college can't come up with the aid you had hoped for. What do you do then?
* Borrow. Investigate supplemental loan programs offered by commercial and not-for-profit organizations. Look into college-sponsored plans. Some colleges offer tuition budgeting or installment plans to spread out the payments.
* Seek a job with the college. It may entitle you to free or reduced tuition.
* Take a reduced number of courses to cut tuition. Or investigate advanced placement programs.
* Reduce your indirect costs. Live at home, or attend a lower cost college and transfer later.
* Get a job. Find your own or apply for a work-study program. Determine whether your employer will pay.
* Defer enrollment for a year or two.