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.

Community College Vs. Four Year University; Which Is Right For You?

There are reasons that high school students choose to attend a community college and reasons that they choose a four-year college. The right choice will be different for everyone and depend on the individual’s projected career path, financial situation, academic interests, and what they are looking for in a college experience.

Cost can be a large factor in determining whether a student chooses community college or a four-year college. Community colleges are typically much less expensive and may provide an affordable option for students who cannot find a way to afford a four-year college, but want to continue their education. If your financial situation might stand in the way of a four-year college, community college can be a great option. It is also worth exploring financial aid options, including grants, scholarships, and loans that may be available to students entering four-year colleges to help lessen the financial burden.

Your intended career path and academic interests can also be factors in choosing between a community college a four-year degree. A community college can also be a good choice for someone who doesn’t know if they want to enter a profession that will require a four-year degree. Community college will give you two years to explore your interests and make decisions about your future career. After two years, you will have an Associates Degree and can decide if you will enter a career or transfer to a four-year college with a better idea of what you plan to do. Most community college credits will transfer to a four-year college and can be used towards your Bachelors Degree. A four-year degree is often the preferred choice for students who have career goals that will require at least a Bachelors Degree or graduate school.

The atmosphere on campus can be very different between a community college and a four-year college. Many community colleges are non-residential, with students living off campus instead of in dorms and campus housing options. A four-year college will generally have more resources available to students as far as a comprehensive library, an alumni network, and access to sports and clubs.

Beginning at a four-year college also ensures that you are taking the right classes from the very beginning to count towards general requirements and major requirements. Alternatively, community colleges are a great place to catch up on material from high school so that you can get into a better four-year college and not spend time there taking courses to fulfill requirements.

If you are considering transferring to a four-year college after community college, it is important to talk to staff at the community college to find out about credit transfers and assistance with the process. Speaking with college administrators and staff will often help you to make your decision. High school guidance counselors can also be a great resource in helping you to decide between a community college and a four-year college.


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