Working as a Financial Aid Counselor, families often ask me how they can pay for college. More often than not this conversation takes place during the student’s senior year in high school. As a first-generation college student, there are things I wish my family and I had known to help us save on our college bill. These are a few things that families can do to help cut the cost of college:
1. Community colleges can be great options
Community college offers the most affordable education out there. At community college you can complete the general education classes that every school requires, and then transfer to a 4-year school where you can take classes specific to your major. Also, community college is a great place to gain technical skills and earn a short-term certificate to get you started in the workforce.
2. Buy used textbooks or rent them
Buy used books or check to see if you can rent textbooks at your school or online. After the class is over, sell your books back online, to the bookstore, or to someone else.
If you do an internet search for textbooks you may find a better deal from an online retailer than from the school bookstore, or you may be able to download a less expensive electronic version.
3. Explore all of your aid options
Apply for financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are several types of aid such as grants, scholarships, work-study and loans. Apply for financial aid every year you are in school and start looking for scholarships early.
Also check with your school’s Financial Aid Office to see if merit-based aid is available. To qualify for merit-based aid, you may need to meet certain criteria, such as specific academic areas or certain sports.
4. Borrow responsibly
Student loans are not free. You must pay back your student loans with interest.
If you have student loan money left over after you pay your school expenses, you do not have to accept that money. It is not free! The less money you borrow now, the less money you will have to repay after graduation.
If you pay the interest while you are in school, you will pay less money in the long run.
5. Avoid dropping classes and focus on graduating on time
Decide what you want to major in early in your college career and decide which career path is right for you. By thinking about this ahead of time, you will avoid paying for classes that don’t end up contributing toward your degree.
Dropping classes will extend your time to completion. The longer you are in school the more you will pay for college. Postponing joining the workforce also means you will be losing out on potential earnings.
These are only some of the things I wish I had known when preparing to pay for my college education. All of the tips mentioned involve planning ahead.
A great way to handle your finances and practice planning is to develop a spending plan. A spending plan can help you manage your financial aid and finances, while helping you figure out your expenses over the number of years that it will take you complete your degree, but that’s a topic for another blog.
Robert Weinert Jr. is a Financial Aid Adviser and is pursuing his Masters in Higher Education Administration Enrollment Management at Bay Path University. He is a 2017-18 virtual intern with the Office of Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education.