By Ryan Zantingh
Despite a growing skepticism about the value of a college education, the evidence remains clear that those with a bachelor’s degree have nearly double the annual earning potential and half of the unemployment rate of those with only a high school diploma[i]. But investing in a college degree is expensive—there’s just no getting around that.
A solution to the high cost of college will require better teamwork between the government, colleges and universities, lenders, philanthropists, education think tanks, and other stakeholders. But until that happens, there are some very practical things that you can do to keep your college years affordable. Below are eight pieces of advice:
1. Apply for Scholarships Early and Often: Most students apply for scholarships when they are entering college, but fewer continue to apply for scholarship opportunities throughout their college years. Colleges usually have some scholarships that are available only to continuing It would surprise you to learn how often colleges extend their scholarship application deadlines because no one applied.
2.Save: Outside of receiving as many scholarships and grants as possible, the best way to reduce the cost of college is to save. College savings will reduce the amount of loans that students will need to repay (with interest). There are college savings accounts that offer preferential tax treatment, like 529 plans or Coverdell Savings Accounts in the US and RESP in Canada.
3. Complete the FAFSA or Canada Student Loan Application: in the US, The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your application for federal, state, and college need-based grants and need-based employment. It also makes students eligible to borrow Federal Direct Student Loans, which offer far superior terms than private student or parent loan options. Even students without financial need can borrow these loans. To maximize opportunities for assistance, complete the FAFSA early (it becomes available each year on October 1). When you apply for a Canada Student Loan, you are automatically assessed for eligibility for Canada Student Loans and Canada Student Grants, which are based on financial need.
4. Don’t Over-borrow: I often see students borrow more money than they need to meet their expenses, usually because they want to make sure they have enough. Careful planning and budgeting can reduce over-borrowing. If you still borrow more than you need, ask the Financial Aid Office to return what you don’t need rather than receiving a “refund.”
5. Be Frugal: Try to buy used textbooks or rent them when possible. Is a new laptop a necessity, or will your college’s computer labs suffice? If you do plan to purchase a laptop, check with your college’s IT department about free software—some schools provide their students with a license for Microsoft Office or other software at reduced or no cost.
6. Keep Your Eye on the Target: Nothing increases the cost of college like adding another semester or year of school. In addition to the added cost, it delays your future earning potential. Don’t compromise your grades by letting too much work or play get in the way.
7. Accelerate Loan Repayment: If you can, try to start repaying your loans while you’re in school. Even small regular payments can really add up. When you graduate, try to pay more than your minimum required payment. By paying ahead of schedule, you will significantly reduce your interest payments over the life of your loan.
8. UPromise: in the US, UPromise by Sallie Mae allows you to earn cash back on shopping, dining, travel and more, which can contribute to a college savings plan or pay down eligible student loans. While you could do this with any cash-back rewards card, UPromise easily allows family or friends to earn rewards on your behalf as well.
[i] Mangukiya, Piyush. “[Infographic] Is College Worth the Cost?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.
About the Author
Ryan Zantingh is Director of Financial Aid and Enrollment Operations at Trinity Christian College of Palos Heights, Illinois.
Image credits: Trinity Christian College, pixabay.com