TPE Prep: Paying for CollegeSubmitted by The Participant Effect on September 11th, 2020
The average annual cost of attending a four-year public college in 2018-2019 was more than $20,000 (tuition, room and board). Private colleges were even pricier at close to $45,000. Add in books, activity fees, trips to go home and spring break travel — plus an occasional beer at the student union — and your total costs over four years could easily range from $90,000 to $200,000.
If your parents volunteer to pay for all of that, then you’re one of the lucky few. But many need some combination of help from parents and family, scholarships, grants, student loans and part-time jobs.
Begin planning as soon as possible. Many parents begin saving for college when their kids enter middle school. That’s a good time for you to start thinking about college costs too. You may not know what you want to study yet, but you may already know what kind of education you want. Is there a “dream school” you’ve set your sights on? Are you hoping to go to a college with a special degree program for your field of choice? Are you looking for a school with a strong athletic program? Start a discussion with your parents about how to pay for the college experience you want.
There are a number of options when it comes to funding your college education:
- Grants. If your family meets financial need requirements, the federal government offers grants that do not have to be repaid. Visit www.studentaid.gov to read about the requirements.
- College scholarships. You may be familiar with athletic scholarships, but there are also scholarships for music, science, the humanities and more. Ask the student aid office of your high school and prospective colleges what financial help is available and how to qualify.
- Private scholarships. A number of private organizations offer money to students based on subject, membership in civic or fraternal organizations, race, ethnicity or gender. You can find scholarships on websites like scholarships.com, which is free.
- Work. Many students take part time jobs while going to college. This may be private employment or a university’s work-study program.
- Savings. You don’t have to wait until college to start working – and saving — for college. Get a job now and start a dedicated college savings account.
Loans: The Last Resort
Once you’ve exhausted all other possibilities, there are several kinds of loans available to college students: Direct subsidized loans based on financial need, direct unsubsidized loans, PLUS loans (including loans given to parents for their children) and private loans through banks and other financial institutions. Unlike grants and scholarships, loans have to be paid back — with interest. Because these loans can carry financial burdens that last for decades, they need careful consideration and a clear pay-back strategy. You can read about them at studentaid.gov.
What If There’s Just Not Enough Money?
Consider starting out at a local community college. At some, you can earn a two-year degree for much less money, especially if you live at home. Upon graduation, you may be able to move on to an affiliated university to complete your four-year degree.
If you’re not set on going directly to college and have an interest in military service, the education programs for veterans are extremely robust. The GI Bill will cover tuition, fees, housing and textbooks. In addition, taking time to gain some work experience or participate in a program like the Peace Corps could help you better understand what you really want from a career.
The Bottom Line
Being responsible about planning for and handling the costs of your college education is a first step into adulthood and great practice for building a sound financial future.