The moment is finally here. You’re holding your acceptance letter, giddy and excited, possibly jumping up and down. You have officially been accepted into college, high school days are nearly behind you, and you’re gearing up to begin this next chapter in your life. New people, new surroundings, new classes and college parties… it’s so close. With all that excitement, it can be easy to forget about the one thing that’s going to get you there – paying for it. Between tuition, room and board, and textbooks, there is so much to think about when it comes to figuring out finances. No matter what your financial or living situation is, there are options for you to pay for college.
Factor price into your college decision process.
If you have been accepted to more than one school, and are debating among them, there are certain factors to consider when choosing the right school.
No matter what school you think you’re going to attend, the cost has probably been in a rising state over the past years. College isn’t as affordable as it used to be, and has become a significant determining factor of people’s choices. Figure out what you’re going to be able to afford, whether you are going to be paying for it yourself, or getting help from your parents.
Weigh institution options.
It is also a good idea to have in mind which school is your reach school and which school is your safety school. Sometimes, it feels really good to know you’ve been accepted into your reach school, but when it comes to figuring out finances, the money isn’t always there. It’s a huge bummer, but there are alternatives, such as attending a community college for a couple years, then transferring over to your desired university. A couple years might even get you your Associates Degree depending on your credits.
Determine your budget.
Once you figure out what school you are going to go to, the first step is sending in your acceptance of the offer. On this form, you will also fill in whether or not you will be living on campus since room and board is factored into your tuition. You should have filled out a FAFSA form, preferably at the beginning of the year and in accordance with your college’s financial aid deadlines. This form takes into account you and your family’s financial situation to determine what kind and how much aid you will potentially receive. This is an important part in your financial and budgeting planning. Once you send your offer acceptance, you will receive your exact tuition information for the upcoming semester and/or year. Then, you can start figuring out what your options are to pay that tuition.
Research your payment options.
Student loans can be a tricky things to figure out because there are so many different types out there. First off, this is how a loan works: For each semester, you will receive a tuition cost. Depending on what kind of loan service you use, you will submit the loan request in that amount. You are either approved or denied. When you’re approved, you can breath easy knowing that it is being paid for in some way, when you are denied, it’s on to the next one. There are different kinds of loans you should be aware of – Federal and private.
Federal loans are offered by the government and provide lower interest rates and lower fixed payment plans. These are loans you will pay back with interest, but after the grace period is over. A grace period is time allotted after you graduate before you are to start paying off your loans. Direct Unsubsidized and Direct Subsidized loans are determined by the information you provide on your FAFSA. They are usually sent to you with your tuition information, and you can choose to accept or deny these loan offers. There are also loans that you apply for. The options can depend on your living situation.
Federal Perkins Direct Loan. Your best option if you are planning to take out a loan on your own with no assistance from a parent or guardian. In this case, the college is the lender, and you will owe the college in which you attend.
Parents PLUS Direct Loan. Your best option if you are receiving financial support from your parents. The loan will be granted to your parents, and be under their name.
Things to keep in mind:
- You will have to pay interest on these loans. What you take out will be less than what you owe at the end.
- Federal loans come with a grace period, which means you do not have to pay your loans back until after you graduate (i.e. 6-month grace period).
- The loans you take out will have to be reapplied to every year. The FAFSA form also must be filled out each year. Again, that is how your Unsubsidized and Subsidized loans are typically determined.
- Consolidation is always an option. When you graduate, you could end up with numerous loans because you have to request them each year. With Federal loans, you can combine them all, and pay them off at one fixed monthly rate for a certain amount of years. You also get options as to how long you would like to pay off your loans (i.e. 10 years, 15 years, 25 years, 30 years). There are consolidation calculators that will help you figure out what is the best option for you depending on your budget. These are best used after you graduate and you know what each loan will add up to, including interest.
Private loans are taken from a bank, credit union, or other financial provider. There are higher interest rates, and often times are you are required to make payments while you are in school. They are also heavily dependent on credit, and are only awarded to students/parents with loan-worthy credit. There are many websites available online to search free for private loans. Consolidation is possible with private loans, but there are restrictions and terms depending on your lender. You also can’t consolidate a private loan with a federal loan. No matter what kind of loan you decide to take out, there are student loan administers that grant access to students to both private and Federal loans.
Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships are always a great option for extra financial support towards your tuition. You can even apply for them before you graduate high school. Your eligibility for a scholarship can also be determined by your FAFSA application. Scholarships are not Federal or Private Loans, therefore you do not have to pay back the money. There are thousands of scholarships available for students, which can be limitless or granted to students who meet specific criteria, such as academics, sports, culture, ethnicity, health issues, and other factors that measure up to the standards of the scholarship foundation or organization. Grants are offered by the Federal government and can be applied for or offered.
Finding scholarships might seem like daunting task, but there are so many easy ways to search for scholarships in which you are eligible for. Start with the easiest option – a Google search. You can also check with the financial aid office at your high school or future college, local library, local, state and government agencies and organizations, or you or your parents’ employers. Even celebrities have their own scholarship foundations!
A Federal work-study award is another option granted to those who are in need of financial support for their education expenses. The Government will provide part-time employment in the field in which the student is studying. These programs are offered to both graduate and undergraduate students, and their payment depends on whether they are in undergrad or graduate programs. Undergraduate students will be paid hourly, while most graduate students will be paid by salary. The jobs can also be on-campus or off-campus. Pay can also come from the Government or from your school depending on the job the student is doing. Students also can’t work beyond what their work-study offers.
Organization is key to pay for college.
Make sure you keep track of all the loans you take out, and the amount in which they are for. It will be easier to understand once you graduate and your grace period comes to an end.
Meet your deadlines.
With all financial aid, there are deadlines. Whether it’s your FAFSA application deadline, your loan application deadline or scholarship application and essay due dates, not meeting a deadline could lead to a hefty tuition bill and no way to pay for it.
Figure out your payment plan.
When you have an idea of what your tuition will be, with financial aid implemented, figure out how exactly you will make each payment – whether you pay half and your parents pay half each month, or use a chunk of your savings to make a nice first payment. Another option for those taking out loans is to keep a separate account for your loan refund money. Many times, your loan lender will award you more money than you requested. Technically, the money is still yours, so they will issue your school will issue you a refund check. Put those checks in a separate bank account. That way when it comes time to start paying off your loans, you’ll already have a couple months under your belt.
Another great option is to take out a student credit card to not only build your credit for the future, but to help pay off your tuition in a timely and stable manner.
Figuring out how to pay for college can be complicated, confusing and very annoying. But, once you figure out what options work best for you, you can come up with a plan. There are also tons of great loan and scholarship options on Studentrate to pay for college, so be sure to also check those out. Just stick to your plan, be on top of your responsibilities, and it will become much easier.
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Featured image source: favim.com and
Alexandra Smith is majoring in Psychology, with a minor in Creative Writing. In her free time, she enjoys running, hanging out with family friends, and roaming the world with her camera in hand.