How to Afford College: Exploring Your Options

There are many aspects of the college application process that your high school guidance counselor can provide a wealth of insight into. When it comes to selecting classes, attending college fairs at your school, and collecting teacher recommendations, your guidance counselor may have lots of information specific to your high school that will be especially helpful to you.

 

There are other elements of the college process that may be more difficult for your guidance counselor to help you with. This is somethings because your guidance counselor may be helping hundreds of other students at a time, or it may be because some aspects of the college application process go beyond academics.

 

While your guidance counselor might shed light on college choices that suit you in terms of academics, selectivity, or other student resources, he or she may not be as finely attuned to the financial side of your decisions. So, if you’re one of the 88% of college applicants for whom finances is a significant consideration, you’ll want to read our post on how to explore your options for affording a college education.

 

Explore All Funding Options

This is the most obvious task, and one that is sometimes the be all and end all of exploring financial options, but it’s not as simple as just filling out the financial aid application. There are many different funding options you should explore.

 

Grants

Grants are the most desirable of financial aid options since they do not have to be paid back. With a grant, you can still graduate without crippling student debt. There are several avenues for applying for a grant, with federal, state, and school-specific grants all available.

 

Grants are need-based, so in order to qualify for one, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate your financial need. This begins with the Free Application for Federal State Aid (FAFSA), which is released in October of each year. Once you fill out a FAFSA, you’ll be able to get a clearer idea of how much aid you qualify for.

 

To learn more about the FAFSA, check out these posts:

 

5 Time-Saving Tips For Completing The FAFSA

5 Things To Do After You Fill Out The FAFSA

FAFSA Officially Kicks Off In October: Here’s What You Need To Know

The Ultimate Guide to Filling Out the FAFSA

What Information Will I Need To Complete The FAFSA?

 

Scholarships

Scholarships are another great way to help relieve the financial burden of a college education. There are thousands of scholarships out there, and you can easily search for them using all kinds of filters on sites like Scholarships.com and Student Aid. Scholarships are sometimes one-time awards and are other times renewable for up to four years. Some scholarships are need-blind, which means that they are awarded without regard for financial need, while others are need-based.

 

Scholarships can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, they are a great option because, like grants, they do not have to be repaid and can help you to graduate debt-free. On the other hand, they do sometimes take away from the amount of aid that you’re eligible for. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply, but it does mean that you should be aware that a scholarship won’t necessarily reduce your out-of-pocket expenses directly.

 

To learn more about scholarships, don’t miss these CollegeVine resources:

 

5 Tips To Make College Scholarships Your Summer Focus

Getting A Head Start On Your Scholarship Search

15 College Scholarship Resources For High School Students

What You Need to Know for a Successful Scholarship Season

Helpful Scholarship Resources & Tips

 

Work Study Program

Work study programs are another desirable way to help defray college costs. Essentially they are way to work off part of the cost of your college tuition. In this federally-funded program, you are awarded work through the program valued at a set amount. You will be responsible for finding a job through your college’s work-study program, and your paycheck will either be deposited into your bank account, where you can use it to help pay for college, or it will be directly debited from your college fees. To learn more about the work study program, see our post How Does Work Study Work?

 

Loans

Loans are the least desirable option for helping to pay your college costs because they must be repaid. This means that you will graduate with debt, and that this debt will most likely continue to accrue interest until it is paid off in full.

 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should not take out a loan to pay for college, but it does mean that you should carefully consider doing so before blindly signing that dotted line. While federal and state loans are closely governed, private loans can have variable interest rates and carry significant risks.

 

Student loans are a significant financial commitment that often follows graduates for a decade or more after graduation. Your student debts will follow you even through a bankruptcy later in life and will also be linked to anyone who cosigns the loan for you.

 

That being said, there are often gaps between what is covered by grants and scholarships and the total cost of a college education. If loans are the only way for you to bridge this gap, you may have to consider them if you want to attain a college diploma.

 

To learn more about loans, don’t miss our post Borrowing For Beginners: An Introduction to Student Loans.

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Reducing College Costs

Exploring funding options isn’t the only way to tackle college costs. You should also consider options for reducing college costs. There are many ways to shave anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand to even more off the total cost of a college education.

 

Commuter Schools or Off Campus Housing

The total cost of attending college is much higher than simply the tuition. Other costs like housing, meal plans, and supplies can really add up. One way to reduce the total cost of a college education is to cut back on these additional fees. You can avoid housing costs and reduce meal costs by living at home or considering other housing options. Living at home and commuting to college can save thousands in housing costs over four years.

 

Sometimes the cost of living on campus exceeds the cost of renting a room in a larger house with other people, where you’ll also usually have access to a complete kitchen.

 

Check out The Pros and Cons of a Commuter School: What to Know and How Much Does College Housing Really Matter? to learn more.

 

Dual Enrollment or AP Classes

Another way to save money is to start your college career with college credits already under your belt. In a dual enrollment program, you can enroll in college classes while you’re still in high school. If you pass them, the credit will count towards both your high school and college graduation. This is a great way for students in high school to stay engaged in challenging work while defraying some college costs. Read our article Dual Enrollment: What You Need To Know to learn more.

 

AP classes or credits can work in a similar way. If you can pass AP exams, your scores will sometimes count as credit towards college graduation. This varies from one college to another, but if you have amassed a significant number of passing scores on AP exams throughout high school, you should look into which colleges will accept them for credit. This can ultimately save you lots of money in tuition costs. To learn more, check out Can AP Tests Actually Save You Thousands of Dollars?.

Community College

Community colleges are another, often overlooked option for saving on college costs. Before you enroll in a four-year college, it’s possible to enroll in a local community college. At community college, you can begin to earn college credits at a significantly lower cost while continuing to live at home and often holding down a job at the same time.

 

Later, usually once you have completed two years at community college, you can transfer to a four-year school and sometimes use the credits earned at community college to place into school as a junior. The specific rules for transferring credits from a community college vary at each four-year institution so be sure to look into these rules before you begin. This way, you still get a college diploma from a four-year college, but you arrive at it with significantly lower costs.

 

Don’t miss our post Should I Go to a Community College? to learn more.

 

Paying for college is a significant concern for the large majority of college applicants, but if you plan ahead, you’ll be able to find a path towards a college diploma that suits your budget and your academic needs. For more help, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.