Five Tips for Affording College
Once you’ve crossed the hurdle of getting into college, it is time to figure out how you are going to pay for it. Though the sticker price of higher education can be high, there are plenty of ways students can earn a Bachelor’s degree for less. Let’s explore five tips for making college a more affordable endeavor!
Start at a Community College
Beginning your first two years of higher education at a community college can be a big money saver. Most likely, you’ll stay home and live with your parents for a bit longer, which means you’ll be saving money on room and board. Tuition at community colleges is significantly lower than that of traditional four-year colleges and private institutions.
If you are strapped for cash or worried about finances but still want to get a quality education, then it may be worth exploring enrolling in a community college first, and then transferring to a four-year school after you get your general education requirements out of the way. Every little bit adds up!
Scholarships & Grants
We love scholarships and grants because they are essentially free money! Unlike loans, you don’t have to pay anything back. There are plenty of scholarships out there for college-bound students to apply for. Some are merit-based, while others are need-based. Need-based scholarships are geared towards students coming from low-income households, while merit-based scholarships are geared towards people with special talents, or those who have excelled in high school academically. As for grants, you can find them from the colleges you’re applying for, as well as the state and federal government. Most are awarded based on your financial need, and that is determined by the income you report on the FAFSA.
Requirements for scholarships and grants may vary greatly, but you can expect to fill out a standard application, and oftentimes, write an essay about an assigned topic. Be prepared to explain your background, why you are applying for the scholarship or grant of choice, and how you plan to succeed in college and reach your career goals.
Taking out a loan is our last resort, but should always be kept in mind as an option. If you’ve tried getting scholarships and grants and your savings still don’t cover the entire bill, then loans step in to help cover the cost of college. Before you turn to a private lender, borrow money from the federal government first. They offer lower interest rates and more borrower protections. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA to be eligible for a federal student loan.
When it comes to loans, you should be able to apply and receive regardless of your family’s income. Undergraduate freshmen can borrow up to $5,500, which can help immensely! Students showing more financial need may borrow subsidized loans, which don’t accrue interest until after graduation.
The PLUS loan is another type of federal student loan students and families may consider. It allows parents to borrow money to help their kids afford college. Unlike other loans though, PLUS loans do require a credit check and come with a higher interest rate. As for the amount, PLUS should cover the cost of college minus any other financial aid received.
If you’ve thought about picking a part-time job while you’re in college, then work-study programs may be a great way to not only get work experience under your belt, but also your tuition paid! Work-study opportunities are often available either on campus or near the school. Not everyone is eligible for work-study. Again, your eligibility is determined by your finances reflected on the FAFSA, and the funding available at the school.
If you are not eligible for work-study, then it may be worthwhile to search for a paid internship or a part-time job to help pay for college. Check your campus job board or local online forums for the latest available opportunities.
Claim a $2,500 Tax Credit
Did you know that it’s possible to reduce your taxes after paying for tuition, room and board, books, and other college expenses? The American Opportunity Tax Credit allows parents to claim up to $2,500 in tax credit per child if their modified adjusted gross income does not exceed $90,000, or $180,000 if filing jointly.
The Bottom Line
It’s no secret that college is a big investment. But don’t let the “sticker price” discourage you. There are a plethora of ways to afford higher education these days! Scholarships and grants are really helpful, but if you don’t get any, there are still other forms of aid that can help bring the cost down. To avoid stress further down the road, it’s smart to not only plan out your life in college academically but also financially. Start early!