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.

Student Loans: What all Parents and Students Should Know

For most students and their families, student loans are a necessary part of higher education. The challenge for parents and students is to become well-informed about loans so that there are not surprises when it is time to pay then back after graduation.

Interest rates for federal student loans are fixed, meaning that the amount will not change while you have the loan. This is a good thing for students looking to get federal student loans right now. Interest rates are also low, meaning that students can get some good deals when it comes to the interest that will be added to the amount of their student loan.

There are two types of loans available to students: subsidized loans, which are based on financial need, and unsubsidized loans, which are not based on need. The option that is best for you will depend on your family’s income level and the options that you are presented with upon completion of the FAFSA forms.

One of the best student loan options for students are Perkins Loans. These loans are very competitive and awarded to students demonstrating “exceptional financial need.” Students can borrow up to $27,500 to finance their undergraduate education. Perkins Loans have a five percent fixed interest rate.

Perkins Loans are also unique in that they are eligible for federal loan cancellation. This option means that students can opt to work in nursing, law enforcement, social services, or teaching in a low-income area after college to have the loan waived after a certain number of years. It can also be waived if they volunteer with the Peace Corps or a similar organization.

Parents and students are often concerned about how much money they can borrow. One guideline states that students should try to keep loans under control by estimating their monthly income after graduation. Monthly loan payments should make up no more than ten percent of that expected income. There are many websites that allow you to calculate salary estimates for different careers in different cities.

Many student loans offer grace periods of between six months and one year after graduation. Checking on the grace period when choosing loans can be important as this gives students time to find a good job before being hit with loan payments. Calculating out exactly what payments will be and how long it will take to pay off loans is a responsible thing to do when applying for the loan in the first place.

The most important thing parents can do is to sit down with their students and help them to understand exactly what a student loan will mean for them now and at graduation. Student loans can be essential in helping many students to get the education that they need to be successful in a chosen career path. They can also be a burden in the years following graduation so it is important to plan ahead for that time and how student loan payments will factor into your financial plan.

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