For many people, obtaining a piece of the American pie is much more obtainable if you have a higher education. Unfortunately, for many bright students the idea of college is burdensome because of the financial obligations that are required. Affording college can be a challenge especially if you are living in poverty but even middle class families with two working adults struggle to pay $15,000- $40,000 per year for their student’s tuition.
There are so many financial factors to consider when applying for college. Obviously, the best advice is for parents to save as early as elementary school. Different circumstances cause families to make different decisions on how to best prepare for their child’s academic future. This is an ongoing discussion, something that the founder of Strategic Admissions Advice, Shereem Herndon-Brown recently discussed with The Wall Street Journal.
But if you are a student or the parent of a college bound student and you were not fortunate enough to start that college fund over a decade ago there is still hope. Never assume that going to college is impossible due to your financial situation.
Here are 5 things you can do when the cost of college is stressful and overwhelming!
1. Start Small
You don’t have to go to your dream school your Freshman year. The goal of college is to have a successful four years academically and emotionally. The goal is to experience life as a rising adult and learn and develop academically and socially. The last thing you want is to deal with the stress of trying to stay afloat semester to semester. If you are not quite ready to pay for a major university attend a small community college instead. They are usually more affordable and offer flexible financial options. Plus, many universities accept some or all transfer credits. You can use a year or two to land scholarships and get in a better financial position for your dream school. Remember, it is not how you start it is how you finish.
As popular as scholarships are they are also overwhelming to sort through. There are thousands of scholarships available each year. The trick is applying early and seeking very targeted scholarships where you can shine. Big and broad scholarships are great too especially if they offer a large number of recipients. However, aiming for something specific that you are great at or a community that you represent, greatly increases your chances. Don’t hesitate, apply for that swimming, foreign language, high GPA, or multiethnic scholarship if you feel you are a fit!
3. Financial Aid
People forget that colleges are businesses. They are businesses that want your money. They would rather enroll you in a feasible financial aid plan than turn you away. Again, timing is essential. As soon as you are accepted make it clear that you are in financial need and start working with your school’s financial advisor right away. There are typically many programs based on income that will provide lower and more affordable payment options.
Grants are a favorable option because it’s money that you don’t have to pay back and like scholarships many are based on merit and achievements. Here are popular sites to find college tuition grants!
Student loans are the traditional method besides savings to fund college tuition. They are not always ideal due to high interest rates. We don’t suggest taking out ridiculous loan amounts that you will still be paying off in your 50s! Student loans are better used when accessed in smaller amounts to cover what financial aid or scholarships could not. Beware of corporate greed, many loan providers and financial intuitions encourage students to borrow more than they need so choose wisely.
No matter which options you choose get a jump-start and fill out a FAFSA application- https://fafsa.ed.gov Many of the above sources will require it. Make sure you are organized and have all of your documents ready such as your parent’s tax returns and your check stubs if you are working. Challenging does not mean impossible. Stay organized and be persistent in seeking the best financial options for your goals.
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