A lot of times when you hear “college” you also hear “ka-ching!” How will you come up with the thousands of dollars you need to get a degree?
First, take a deep breath. There is financial aid available for most students, and, more importantly, college costs are within your control. Consider these five ways to make college more affordable:
Your goal is to complete your degree in the best college program, at the most affordable price. That will be a different equation for every student and family. It’s a decision based on both finances and personal goals and values. Scott W. Thum, director of financial aid, Indiana Tech, breaks it down this way: community college (lowest tuition, typically offering certificate and associate degree programs); public colleges and universities (bachelor’s degree and graduate degree programs, higher tuition than a community college, but may offer some institutional merit- or need-based aid); private colleges and universities (bachelor’s and graduate degree programs, typically with the highest tuition but most are able to offer significantly more institutional aid to offset costs).
Apply for financial aid.
Don’t assume you won’t qualify for any reason, such as family income or grade point average. Every senior in high school should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between October1 and March 10 each year. Not only does the FAFSA determine how much aid you might receive from federal and state governments, but also sometimes the college or university you might want to attend. Visit FAFSA.gov, and get more scholarship and financial aid advice on page 36.
Do some digging.
Not for a pot of gold buried in the backyard. Instead, dig through the many financial aid resources online and in your school or college counseling office. A good place to start: IndianaCollegeCosts.org for the Indiana College Costs Estimator and other great advice. Next, check out ISMCollegePlanning.org, which offers excellent college planning and financial aid tools for parents and students. Warning: Scammers love to take advantage of needy students. Don’t ever pay for scholarship search services, or give your personal information to any unsecured website or any person, ever.
Start working and saving.
It’s never too late to save for college. If you need money for college, consider taking on part-time (no more than 12 hours per week during the school year) and summer jobs and save a percentage—say 20 percent—to fund your college goal. Consider an Indiana CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan—you can learn more about the tax and gift advantages of this plan at CollegeChoiceDirect.com.
Ask for help.
Visit your school or college counseling office to discuss your particular financial and family situation. If you are interested in a college or university but think it could be out of your reach, talk to an admissions representative about ways to fund your dream, but stay realistic: Your goal is an affordable degree, not a load of student debt.
KEEP THE DEBT DOWN
Even with scholarships and grants, you may find you need to borrow money for college. If you must consider student loans, proceed with caution, but don’t let the idea of some debt scare you away from college completely. Just be smart. Don’t borrow more than what you need. And remember, loans must be repaid, even if you don’t finish college or can’t find a job. Never use student loans to pay off other bills or buy things you may want but don’t really need. Keep track of all your loans so you’ll always know exactly how much you’ll owe in the end.