A lot of high schools seniors are looking forward to graduation in the next few weeks. Many of them are hoping to go to college. More than a few of them are probably worried about paying for it. College is expensive, no doubt about it. After you pay tuition, there are still fees and books and mandatory supplies such as notebooks full of paper and maybe even a notebook computer. How is an 18-year-old kid supposed to pay for all of that?
The key to going to college without ending up in the poor house is planning. Find out how much you can afford and then start from there. Community colleges and state schools are much less expensive than most online schools and private colleges. Local state schools are generally much cheaper than the big-name sports powerhouse schools as well. If you live in Alabama, for example, you can attend a community college for $2,700 per semester (plus fees, books, etc). You can attend the University of Alabama or Auburn University for over $5,700 per semester (plus fees, books, etc). Unless you have a very unusual major, almost all college freshmen and sophomores take the same classes. Going to a smaller college can save you big bucks as well as allow you to benefit from smaller class sizes and more individual attention from your teachers. Use a site like http://collegestats.org to find the least expensive school for you. Once you decide on several schools that are within your budget, it’s time to start gathering the money.
First, don’t overlook the easy money. Regardless of your grades, test scores, or financial situation, you should fill out the FAFSA. That is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You can find the application on www.FAFSA.ed.gov and fill it out. This application is the key to obtaining federal grants, such as the Pell Grant. There are also state-specific grants, work-study programs, and even private scholarships that use the information on the FAFSA when making awards. As the name implies, filling out the FAFSA is free. There are professionals that can help you fill it out, but for 99% of the population, it is not necessary.
Second, apply for everything you can. Many scholarships go unclaimed each year. Check with your school’s financial aid office to find out what scholarships are available and how to apply. Then check with the head of the department where you plan to major. Ask if they have any major-specific scholarships that you may be eligible to receive. If your parents or grandparents are alumni of the school, you may be eligible for a legacy scholarship. The financial aid office can guide you to these resources. Don’t be afraid to apply! The worse that can happen is nothing.
Third, find out if you can get paid to serve your school. You probably know that colleges give scholarships to athletes, but did you know you can also get scholarships for a band, student government, and student publications like yearbook and the student newspaper? Remember the FAFSA? It is used to determine eligibility for Federal Work-Study positions. These are usually on-campus jobs that pay minimum wage and work around your school hours. If you do not qualify for a Federal Work-Study, you may still qualify for a University Work-Study. These are jobs such as ticket booths, food service, library aid, and tutoring. Check with your school’s Career Services department to find out more.
Fourth, if you must take out student loans then you should at least be informed about what you are getting into. There are loans that are “Subsidized” and “Unsubsidized”. The government pays your interest on Subsidized loans while you are in school. You can pay your interest on unsubsidized loans or you can let it accrue and then pay it when you graduate. There are loans that you can get partially forgiven if you go into certain professions and work in certain areas for a prescribed period of time. These programs are generally associated with Stafford and Perkins loans. The most common professions that offer forgiveness are teaching, nursing and public safety (law enforcement). Check with a financial aid professional at your school to find out more about these programs. Another option that is open to anyone who takes out a student loan is to volunteer with AmeriCorps or Peace Corps to earn student loan forgiveness. Once you can determine what programs are available to you, then you can determine how much you can borrow. Another option for students is that they can connect with Accredit as Accredit loan offers best personal loan in Singapore that is also applicable for students. This way they get the lowest possible interest rates as they apply for the loan and have easy payback options as well.
Last, work hard both in school and out. Scholarships aren’t only for incoming freshmen. There are many scholarships that require students to have completed a set number of hours before they can apply. There are others that any student may be awarded based on achievement, financial need, or other factors. Don’t stop looking for financial aid just because classes have begun! After you begin your studies, it may become necessary to take a semester off to work and save money to pay for the next semester. That is ok. College is not like high school, it will not look like you have failed a grade. You may even be able to co-op or intern with a company so that you can work while earning college credit.
Just remember, you don’t have to go into a deep pit of debt to get a good college degree. You can go to a community college for two years and then transfer to a more expensive 4-year school. Your diploma will look the same as the students’ who were there for all four years, but your bank account will be much fatter. There isn’t anything wrong with taking off a semester to work more hours at your job in order to avoid debt.
Utilize financial aid, career services, and other staff at your school. They are your best resources to finding out what your school offers in term of financial assistance. Good luck!