Let’s face it: college can be expensive. While there are some major payoffs,thinking about how to foot the bill now can leave your head spinning. The good news? Whether you’re returning to school to finish a degree, a working mom, or recent high school graduate, there are many options to help you pay for all (or part) of your education. Read on to learn about financial aid opportunities that students are taking advantage of every day:
Before you hit the books
Many times the most significant means of financing an education start before you ever set foot on campus.
Consider Low Cost Alternatives
Starting out at a local community college and then transferring to a four-year university is an excellent way to cut some of the costs associated with getting a college degree. Similarly, taking general requirements through online courses or completing your entire degree online can significantly reduce the overall cost and time commitment of attending college.
For those who already have a skill set in mind or are just looking to improve on a set they already have, vocation or trade schools offer comprehensive, relatively low cost training in a wide range of fields.
Though it requires planning ahead and some serious self-discipline, a savings plan can be an easy, empowering way to finance your education. Talk to one of your bank’s financial advisors to see what kinds of savings plans they offer to finance education expenses.
Eye on the prize
When considering which financing options to pursue, it’s important to consider your unique financial needs and situation.
In 2012-2013, 34% of undergraduate students took out federal subsidized or unsubsidized loans to help finance their education. Federal loans have low, fixed interest rates guaranteed for the lifetime of the loan. In order to apply for a federal loan, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
While federal loans can offer substantial amounts of money to help offset or completely cover the cost of post-secondary education, you do have to pay the money back, plus interest. That may seem like a no-brainer, but minimum payments can be crippling, so be warned!
Scholarships for _______
Unlike loans, students do not have to pay scholarships back. There are thousands of scholarship opportunities out there, including scholarships for moms, dads, LGBT, and those with disabilities. Though some scholarships come with contingents such as minimum GPA requirements or essays, they are one of the best ways to finance your education.
Part-time of Full-time Employment
Some universities offer work-study programs as part of a financial aid package, but a vast majority of students (78% of undergraduates) work off campus in order to pay for their education and living expenses. Many parents find that online courses are a great way to earn credits while juggling a busy work schedule and children.
Get Good Grades
It goes without saying that good grades are, well, good. Aside from looking good on a transcript, good grades can also help you secure scholarships while further along in school that are based on high academic achievement. So study hard! It can pay off – literally.
Make a Budget and Stick to It
Even if you’re not planning on going to college, making a budget is a great way to cut down on wasteful spending, start planning for the future, and gain some financial sanity. Sticking to a budget can be hard, especially when you have to compromise vacation, leisure time, or “just for fun” purchases for yourself or your children, but in the end it’s worth to have peace of mind and be able to set you and your family up for success.
While no amount of money can replace the hard work and dedication it takes to ultimately finish a degree program, having some financial support can definitely set you off on the right foot so you can focus on getting that cap and gown.