What to Do When Your First College Bills Are Shockingly High

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- While college freshmen nationwide are busy decorating dorm rooms and navigating campus, parents are opening the mailbox to find their first bills from the university. With additional costs for meal plans, textbooks, living expenses and entertainment, many families are just now getting a complete picture of their financial obligations.

Unfortunately, even parents who have prepared for their child's education with savings bonds or 529 plans may find their money isn't going quite as far as they'd hoped. But all hope is not lost: Experts say there are a few sources for last-minute funding that will ensure your child makes it through their first semester successfully.

"This is an issue we are seeing more and more these days," says Brad Dinsmore, executive vice president for consumer banking and private wealth management for SunTrust Bank in Atlanta. "With the bad economy in recent years, saving for school just became that much more difficult. A lot of families went from a one-income household to a two-income household, and they're finding they don't have as much as they thought."

Any family facing college financial woes should first turn to student scholarships, grants and student loans, Dinsmore says. Although parents may want their child to graduate debt free, that's not always possible. While mom and dad's desire to bear the burden of university expenses is admirable, children should be encouraged to find their own money for college wherever they can.

"We always recommend that students and their parents have a conversation with the financial aid office to review their financial aid package to see if there are any options before deciding to take out a loan," says Brendan Coughlin, president of education finance for RBS Citizens Financial Group. "Then we encourage families to explore both federal and private loans to make sure they choose the one that best fits their needs."

There are some parents who will find better rates and more flexibility in the private loan market, Coughlin says. For example, if you find you're going to need just a few thousand dollars this year, Dinsmore recommends taking out a small loan on the private loan market.