College. It's clearly worth going and getting a degree. According to College Board statistics cited in this MilwaukeeJournal Sentinelarticle, someone earning a bachelor's degree today will earn about $1 million more over her lifetime than a friend who stopped schooling after high school. (Read more on college's salary-boosting powers.)

But once you know that paying for a college education is in your future (for you or your offspring), how do you manage it? There are a few obstacles in your way:

  • For starters, in general, it's darn expensive -- and it's been getting much more so every year. It's estimated that it will ultimately cost about $280,000 to send someone born now to a private college for four years 18 years from now. A public school education will cost "just" $110,000. (These assume annual increases of 5%, though we've seen some annual increases lately that top that.) That ain't chicken feed.

  • A silver lining in this big cloud is that there's a lot of financial aid out there. Much of it even comes from our friend, the federal government. But a recent New York Timesarticle (registration required) notes that the richest colleges are somehow getting disproportionate amounts of federal aid. Hmm. For example, Stanford University gets seven to 100 times as much (depending on the program you look at) as nearby California State University at Fresno.

So what should you do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Don't put off learning about your options and beginning socking money away. You'll find a lot of good advice in our College Savings Center -- or pick up a copy of our book by Robert Brokamp, The Motley Fool's Guide to Paying for School: How to Cover Education Costs from K to Ph.D.

  • Know that there are ways to pay for college even at the last minute. These include holding off a year while your kid earns a little money and starting at a less-expensive community college before transferring elsewhere.

  • Take advantage of the manyscholarships and loans that are available. Believe it or not, many go untapped.

And if the thought of all this is making you cry, here's something to make you smile: Did you know that the mascot of Mississippi 's Delta State University is the Fighting Okra?