Practical Advice to Keep Your College Years Affordable

By Ryan Zantinghdouble-coins

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:application-1883453_640

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.target-970640_1280-cropped

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-tcc-trnty-edu_fa-staff

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

After Graduation… Student Debt?

After my wife Allison's and my most recent graduation.

After my wife Allison’s and my most recent graduation.

As the calendar turns to May, many students across the United States and Canada are preparing to graduate. Some are graduating from college or graduate school. Many others are preparing to graduate from high school, and then either enter the workforce or continue their educations in college.

All of these graduations are major life achievements worth celebrating. So in some ways I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but graduation can also mean it’s time to really look at and prepare for paying back your student debt.

For high school students preparing to begin college or further study, higher education loans are likely the first ones you will be taking on in your life. Most student loans require you to complete some kind of basic education about the loans, including learning about the life of the loans and their cost often online in a half hour or less.

This introductory information is helpful, but if you are like I was when I graduated from high school a decade ago, you may complete the online “training” with little more thought than going through the motions. Had I paid more attention, I would have better understood the potential for long-term student debt.

Those of you graduating college and entering the workforce will likely have a “grace period” on your loan payments upon graduation. After that period you will be required to make regular payments on your loan debt. Spend some time determining what those payments are and how they are structured, including the amount of interest. If able, I recommend beginning paying them off as soon as possible as to cut down on the amount of accrued interest.

Those who graduate from college and continue education with graduate study can place your school loans in deferment because you are continuing your education. However, if you are working while a student, it might be wise to make some kind of payments toward your student loan debt to at least reduce the cost of interest. (Not to mention that your student loan debt may continue to increase if you have added loans for your graduate education.)

These nuggets and observations are ones I have learned from experience. They are not necessarily bad things, but it’s helpful to have awareness and understanding of them.

Returning to graduation, congratulations on your studies and best wishes on your life’s journeys and next steps!

As we celebrate the graduation season during May and June,

  • What questions do you have about student loans and student loan debt?
  • What things are you wondering as you make final decisions and preparations for what’s next?

These are the questions that COMPASS will be exploring over the next few weeks. Please join the conversation.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.