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.

What to Look for When Deciding Where to Apply to College

Part of the reason that the college search can seem so daunting to high school students is that there are many factors to consider. Isolating things that really matter can be challenging, but with a little research, you’ll be able to make good choices about your college applications.

One basic decision you will need to make is how far from home you would like to be during college. Some students prefer to stay close by, while others will want to be within a few hours drive from their families. Other students think nothing of applying to schools across the country or around the world. This is a personal decision, but one that will greatly impact your college decisions.

The type of location is another important factor. Some students will want a college located in the heart of a city, while others won’t mind being in a rural setting. Along the same lines, consider if you want to be part of a large campus or a university with graduate students on campus too. Some students prefer a large college environment while others want a smaller school where there is often more interaction between students and professors.

Rankings are often an important tool for high school students. Look at the average SAT scores and percentage of applicants that are accepted. A high school guidance counselor can also help you to pinpoint schools that are a good fit for you academically. When you look at rankings, you may also want to look at the retention rate or how many students continue on at the college after the first year.

When you visit a college campus, talk to as many students and professors as possible. Students will be great for honest advice and a look at the type of people you would be living and learning with on campus. Ask them about their classes, their favorite part of campus, and why they chose the school. Ask professors to describe the average student on campus and to tell you what you can expect from their department.

Another factor has to be finances. Many public schools will offer lower tuition to in-state students and many are very affordable. Most private colleges are more expensive, but many offer excellent financial aid packages. If cost is a factor, get all of the information you can about financial aid packages and what the average student ends up actually paying.


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