Whether you choose a traditional brick-and-mortar university or an online education, getting a college degree makes a big difference in terms of long-term employability, lifetime earnings, career advancement and so forth. Even if you’re highly motivated to get a college degree and you can get accepted to the college program of your choice, however, paying for college is another matter to figure out. Don’t give up on your dream of that college diploma just because paying for college might take a little ingenuity. Instead, get creative about financing your education, starting with these five tips.
1. Determine your Financial Aid Eligibility
If you think paying for college might mean taking out a loan, you have student loan options. Across the United States, roughly two-thirds of undergraduates depend upon some form of financial aid, according to CollegeBoard.com.
When it comes to getting a student loan, the four main sources to consider are the federal government, state and city governments, the university itself and private organizations, such as banks. While the federal government is by far the largest supplier of loans, you might be surprised what your research turns up about other sources for loans.
The best place to start in determining your financial aid eligibility is with the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Make sure to fill out the FAFSA application before you actually need the money as it will take some time for the government to process your application and determine what type of aid you’re qualified to receive. Depending upon your financial circumstances, you might be eligible for federal grant money. Grant money is not actually a loan; when you receive a grant, you have nothing to pay back – which means if you get any kind of FAFSA grant, subtract for your “paying for college” total.
2. Paying for College with Scholarships
Some people think that scholarships are only for sports stars and academic wizards. The truth, however, is that there are a number of scholarships that have nothing to do with grades or sports. In fact, when you start to seriously research scholarship opportunities, you’ll be shocked at how many obscure scholarships are available and how much of that scholarship money goes unnoticed and therefore unclaimed.
Here are a few things that might surprise you that could qualify you for a college scholarship:
- Your ethnic background, regardless of what that might be
- Your parents’ profession
- The state or city in which you live
- An unusual hobby or talent you have, such as making things out of Duck brand tape or singing the national anthem
- Winning an essay contest
- Winning a poetry contest
- Winning a musical contest
From correctly answering the questions to a short quiz about fire sprinklers to speaking the alien language Klingon from the Star Trek series, there are all sorts of scholarships out there waiting to be discovered by resourceful future college students. Some of them are only worth a few hundred dollars, but if you can acquire a $500 scholarship here and a $1,000 scholarship there, you’ll quickly be on your way to paying for your college expenses.
3. If you are still in high school, invest in the future by taking AP classes.
AP, or Advanced Placement, classes are not for everyone. However, if you are willing to work hard in an AP class while still in high school, you can later earn college credits. Every credit you earn is one less class you have to include on your plans for paying for college. There are additional ways high-schoolers can plan on paying for college without attending AP classes. But these opportunities won’t magically appear … you have to do your homework.
4. Ask Your Employer about Tuition Reimbursement Programs.
A high percentage of companies will pay for all or part of the tuition for college courses – or other types of training that could increase your skill set. Look in your Employee Handbook to see of there’s a Tuition Reimbursement program. If you still can’t figure it out, simply as your Human Resources representative about any programs that help paying for college.
5. Consider starting your education at a less expensive school.
Perhaps your goal is to receive a degree from a well-known state university near your home. Attending that university, however, might cost as much as $20,000 per year or more. That’s an amount of money that will force almost any average person to go into debt. Therefore, consider starting somewhere else and transferring your credits to that state university later in your college career.
For example, you might be able to receive an online education for your first few core classes in subjects such as math, English, history and so forth. Alternatively, attend a community college to accrue these core class credits. Online universities and community colleges can often save you a bundle of money.
On a final “DO NOT DO THIS” note: When you receive that shiny new credit card in the mail with its $2,000 limit, the worst thing you can do is to max it out on books for college classes or college tuition. Even though many college graduates complain about the heavy burden of student loans, the price of a loan is nothing compared to the interest rates you will pay if credit card debt is part of your plan on paying for college.
These five tips are just the beginning. If you’re willing to do your financial homework as diligently as you’ll be doing your college homework, paying for college will not come as surprise, plus you’ll know all your options.