10 tips to make higher education affordable
By Brooke A. Deitrick
For many recent high school graduates, college brings the promise of independence, growth and, unfortunately, debt. According to a recent study by College Board, students today will pay 257 percent more in tuition and fees than a student who attended college 30 years ago. According to FinAid.com, tuition increases an average of 8 percent each year while the average income only increases 3 percent. As a result, students who attend a public, four-year university are forced to take out an average of $22,261 in student loans to cover housing, tuition and miscellaneous expenses. Collectively, this expense has cost Americans a whopping $1 trillion in student loan debt, according to the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau.
Here are a few options that may help make higher education more affordable.
1. Scholarships are worth the effort. The first word students think about when they hear scholarships is “work.” While writing an essay may take some dedication, the return on investment for scholarship writing is worth it. Think about it. When is the last time you made $1,000 for a half-day of work? Each essay can bring a high school, middle school or even elementary school student one step closer to getting an education student-loan-free.
2. Compare your tuition, like you would compare an investment. With tuition costs on the rise, college is quickly becoming a student’s first major investment. Just as a homebuyer would review several properties before purchasing his or her dream home, a student should compare all available options when investing in higher education. In this comparison, it is important to review community colleges, trade schools, public and private universities. Additionally, a student should consider relocation and extra fees associated with attending a school outside of his or her home state.
3. Be fast on FAFSA filing. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) helps students obtain more than $150 billion worth of federal grants, loans and work-study each year. To complete the application, students and their parents need to file their taxes early and submit the form before their state’s required deadline. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so students are encouraged to file their FAFSA form as soon as possible.
4. Only borrow what you need. Unlike grants and scholarships, student loans will need to be repaid. Student loans can help pay for tuition, housing, books and needed living expenses; however, it is important for students to not over-borrow for recreational use. If overused, student loans can create a financial burden to repay after graduation. Subsidized student loans are need-based loans in which the federal government pays the interest while the student is in school. Unsubsidized student loans begin accruing interest the day they are received and require principle and interest repayment.
5. Work-study is worth looking into. Work-study programs allow students to work part-time while going to school. These jobs are designed to work around a student’s class schedule and are typically located on campus. These minimum-wage opportunities can help students afford everyday living expenses without having to take on additional, interest-bearing student loans.
6. Credit cards can help build credit if used appropriately. Credit cards are financial tools that can build positive credit history and provide future financial opportunity, if used correctly. If a student believes he or she is responsible enough to use a credit card, compare the interest rates, fees, rewards and terms on all credit card offers. After opening a credit line, he should pay off the balance each month and only charge up to one-third of his or her total credit card limit. These positive habits will help build good credit and assist students in the future as they search for jobs, insurance, auto loans and home loans.
7. Switching majors could be your biggest expense. At age 18, it can be tough for students to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. In fact, most students change their majors at least once after entering college. Unfortunately, this change can delay graduation and ultimately cost money. If the student is unsure about a major, he or she should consider taking basic courses first and volunteering in a particular field of interest. This will help save money and give a realistic picture of that particular career choice.
8. Transferring schools can delay graduation. If the student is considering transferring schools, it is important to understand the transfer schedule. A new school may or may not accept his or her current credits, thus delaying graduation and costing thousands in unusable credit hours. To avoid extra costs, students should meet with an adviser to understand the impact of transferring schools. Be sure to ask questions regarding in-house credit requirements, transfer student testing and financial aid for transfer students.
9. Test out and save up. Advanced Placement Exams, better known as AP tests, allow high school students the chance to receive college credit while in high school. Additionally, College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests can be taken in high school or college to receive credit for basic subjects. Although these tests don’t impact a student’s Grade Point Average (GPA), they do allow the student to reduce tuition costs and graduate early. The grade requirements for these tests vary at each college and should be discussed with a student’s college adviser.
10. Go to college for free while in high school. Dual credit allows high school juniors and seniors to take college courses for free while enrolled in high school. Students enrolled in these programs can count these credits for both high school and college. Similar to the AP and CLEP tests, this allows the student to enter college with a few courses already completed, which saves money on tuition and gives the student the opportunity to graduate early. To see if your state offers dual credit or early-college-start programs, ask your high school guidance counselor.
To save the most money on college expenses, you will need to plan early, work hard and borrow responsibly. College is both an academic and financial investment that should be contemplated, analyzed and researched. Exploring all of these options can help to make college more of an investment in your future, instead of a lifelong investment in student loans.