How flag football can help you pay for college

The flag football breakdown on how to pay for college 

Raising a family and working full-time is no easy win. Between the hours of homework, the meals and chores, and the constant shuffle between work deadlines and afterschool activities, it’s hard for families to find extra time to connect. My husband and I knew we needed to change that.

While raising our two boys, we decided to start a youth flag football league that was flexible enough for working families, but still gave kids a fun and engaging environment to excel. We created Greater Lehigh Valley Athletics in 2013 and we soon became an Official Youth Football Development Partner of the National Football League. To date, we have more than 500 kids participating in our programs.

When I’m not helping families on the athletic fields, I’m working at Sallie Mae helping students and families plan for college and responsibly fund their education. Before working at Sallie Mae, I worked in the financial aid offices of two local colleges. You could say planning and paying for college has been part of my playbook since the beginning.

Although the thought of paying for college may seem overwhelming, I wanted to share my favorite tips, tricks, and resources to break it down in the easiest, and most relatable way possible — in flag football terms.

Come up with a game plan

Just like your favorite team comes up with a game plan before each of their games, you should do the same for your higher education journey. Start with: “How much can I set aside each month for a college savings fund?” or “What are my 529 colleges savings plan options?”

Research shows that 84% of families say creating a plan to pay for higher education is challenging, so if you’re having trouble, you’re certainly not alone. There are tools out there that help students and families research college costs and assist them in building a customized plan to pay for college. You’ll want to keep track of the full cost of college, not just tuition, and potential scholarships, grants, and student loans

Start training early

The old saying, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” can certainly apply to your paying-for-college plan. Start tackling college costs by taking Advanced Placement courses in high school. Successfully completing an AP course, and receiving a 3 or higher on the AP test, means earning college credits without paying any college tuition.

AP classes can also indirectly help students get into their top college choices by strengthening their transcript. Some high schools give extra weight to AP grades when calculating students’ GPAs, and AP classes also show admissions officers a student is ready for college-level schoolwork.

Don’t fumble the FAFSA®

Completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the single most important thing you can do to get financial aid for college. Each year, the government sets aside money (last year it was $150 billion!) to help students pay for college or career school. Filling out the FAFSA® is a crucial step to qualify for that federal aid — like grants (free $$$), college scholarships (also free $$$), work-study, and federal student loans.

The FAFSA® typically opens October 1 every year, but due to new changes in the application, the opening date has been pushed to December 2023 for this year only. It’s super important to file it as soon as possible because some aid is awarded first-come, first served. Also, schools will use the FAFSA® to put together financial packages, states use it to determine eligibility for state aid, and it’s required for a lot of scholarship applications.

Practice makes perfect. Make sure you fill out the FAFSA® as a high school senior, every year in college, and even graduate school. Filing a new FAFSA® each year in the only way to remain eligible for federal financial aid.

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Score some scholarships

You don’t need to be the next Patrick Mahomes to get a scholarship for college. Scholarships are one of the most-used resources to cover college expenses, but plenty are left untapped. They’re not just for the star athlete or the perfect scholar. Whether your student is left-handed, willing to wear a duct tape dress to prom, or loves to skateboard, there are scholarships out there for them!

If your student needs help finding scholarships, check out Scholarship Search by Sallie—your go-to for finding and applying for free money opportunities for school. Best part? You don’t have to register—and you can use filters to narrow down your search based on your background, major, the state you live in, and more. 

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey financial, tax, or legal advice. We make no claims about the accuracy or adequacy of this information. These materials may not reflect our view or endorsement. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.

footnote SLM Nitro College, LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of SLM Corporation and Nitro by Sallie Mae is a service mark of Sallie Mae Bank. SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries, including Sallie Mae Bank and SLM Nitro College, LLC are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States.

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