Beyond Financial Aid: Tips for Paying for College

College tuition costs are rising every year. As the cost of tuition, books and fees continue to increase, financial aid alone is not enough to pay for an education. Careful planning and research, and a bit of creativity, can help pay the bills and make college affordable again. Here are some tips to help ease the cost of tuition.

Scholarships

Communities, schools and organizations of all types offer scholarships. Review the criteria and apply for everything possible. Employers sometimes offer scholarships for children of employees or for the employees themselves. Certain clubs and community organizations have scholarships for just being a member. There is also assistance available for many types of high demand careers like nursing and teaching. The internet is a great resource for finding listings of available grants and scholarships.

Take an alternative route

Taking classes at a community college for the first two years can save thousands of dollars. Most colleges will transfer credits from a two year school making the transition easy. This path does take cautious planning since taking classes that will not transfer can be a waste of both time and money. Taking advanced placement (AP) classes in high school can also save money. Many colleges will grant credit for AP classes which will save on tuition long term.

Commute in state

Room and board are a large part of the college bill. While living at home is not glamorous, it can save enough money for a down payment on a home after school is done. Local state schools are another great way to save money when combined with commuting. State schools usually have reduced tuition rates for in state residents. Check with individual schools for more details.

Student Loans

When free money is not available, student loans are the next best option. Loans are available through the government and from private lenders. Loans do carry interest rates and will have to be paid back once school is complete. Interest rates may be variable or fixed and often students can defer payment until they find employment after graduation. The government offers loans as part of a financial aid package and there are limitations on the amount that can be borrowed. Private loans are available from banks and credit unions and they can bridge the gaps left by financial aid. Loans are an extremely useful tool for paying for school but they should only be used when necessary to avoid incurring excessive debt.

Work for the money

It is difficult to balance school and work, but it is almost impossible to get through four years of school without at least a part time job. Even working during breaks or the summer can provide enough money for books. Some employers even have tuition reimbursement plans for employees attending school. Those who serve in the armed forces may meet the qualifications for the G.I. Bill to assist with tuition costs. Work-study programs are also part of a financial aid package and while these positions usually do not pay well, they are typically on campus or related to the student’s major in some way. Certain colleges have paid co-op programs as part of the curriculum which allows students to earn money and credit at the same time.

The key to finding sources of funding for school is to start early. Start saving in a 529 plan or a savings account early on so there is money available when the time comes for college. Look for scholarships at least a year in advance as most applications have requirements to fulfill before a deadline. It takes time to find sources of aid and to complete applications. Tap all available resources and be sure to meet deadlines to ease the stress of finding money to pay for a college education.

Should I be Taking AP classes?

Taking AP classes during high school can give students an opportunity to earn college credits and often fulfill core requirements before ever arriving on campus. For exceptional students, AP classes can also provide a challenge and a great fit for their abilities. AP classes can challenge students and help to prepare for the SAT by helping you to learn new ways to work through information and preparing you for college level course material and test strategies.

Make a Commitment
While taking AP courses can be a wonderful choice, you should stay honest about how many classes you can manage in your academic schedule and how much work you have time for outside of the classroom. Studying for an AP test is time consuming and it is better to score well on one or two tests than to score poorly on four tests. In most cases, you will need a minimum of a three or four in order to be eligible for college credit.

Get All Your Information
If you can, talk to the teacher of the AP class before you enroll to learn about the course load, expectations, and how your teacher will prepare you for the exam. If you have a top college or top couple colleges, you may also want to find out their policy on AP credits so that you know how well you will need to score and also what classes the credits can replace in core curriculum.

Choose Classes Wisely
Choose AP classes in subject areas that you are interested in studying. You will be devoting large amounts of time to studying this material and may become frustrated if it’s not a subject you enjoy. Chances are, your high school offers AP classes in many different subjects, from environmental science to your foreign language. Choosing the right classes will help you to make the most of going in-depth in a college-level class.

Be Prepared for a Challenge
AP tests can fulfill college credit for a reason — they are college-level work. If you have a busy schedule and struggle to keep your grades high in regular classes, you may want to think twice about AP classes. It’s important to maintain a high GPA at the same time. You can expect to do more writing, learn how to better synthesize information, and learn to think as you would in a college class. If you’re up for a challenge and willing to work hard, AP classes can be great preparation for college.


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