The Economist reported in June 2014 that U.S. student loan debt exceeded $1.2 trillion, with over 7 million debtors in default.
Public universities increased their fees by a total of 27% over the five years ending in 2012, or 20% adjusted for inflation. Public university students paid an average of almost $8,400 annually for in-state tuition, with out-of-state students paying more than $19,000. (source:Wikipedia). With, costs rising out of control for four years of college, how can someone build a plan to pay for college without incurring student loans?
- Seek out all and any scholarships – While this may sound like a “no duh” type statement, the reality is that most families are woefully unprepared when it comes to searching for scholarships and often think they will not get any at all if they make too much income. There are two great websites to begin with including fastweb.com and www.collegeboard.org which can help with starting you off on the track to begin your scholarship search. While it is true there are many need based scholarships, there are plenty to be found for unusual types of scholarships. Two good example are the Duck Tape scholarship for the best Duck Tape Prom Dress/Suit, and the Jif Most Creative Peanut Butter Sandwich Scholarship.
- Start at community college first – When you have interviewed for a new position or job, did an employer ever ask you where you began your college career? Or, do they simply look at your resume and see where your finished your college career. While community college may not give you the entire true freshman experience of college, it is a great way to cut some cost down on your way to getting a diploma. I think the real secret people don’t know is that very tough in state schools for freshman admission are substantially easier to get into if you transfer in as a sophomore or a junior. You just need to be sure how many credits actually transfer so you don’t wind up being a freshman again due to lack of credits.
- Consider alternative housing – Your current bedroom at Mom and Dad’s isn’t the ideal college experience, but this is about making smart money decisions that will affect your future. Once you make some friends on campus, you may be able to crash at someone’s apartment or dorm here and there. Room and board can be in the $10,000 to $15,000 per year range, so this can be a big cost savings. If you don’t like the concept of living at home, then you might consider finding four to six people to share an apartment or house, or consider getting a resident assistant job on campus in a dorm.
- Work – If you hit up the website studentaid.ed.gov, you’ll see how the Federal Work Study Program is laid out for college students. There are a bunch of on campus and off campus opportunities and this working schedule could help you dramatically lower your costs. You could also start with an employer that offers tuition reimbursement and try to balance it out that way. Big employers including Starbucks, Verizon, and Qualcomm all offer tuition reimbursement to their employees.
- Fill Out The FAFSA Forms – Remember, the Free Application For Student Aid now begins on October 1st, and money is doled out on a first come first serve basis so the early bird gets the worm. It is also important to fill out these forms correctly. Many parents overstate their assets because they don’t actually read the boxes. I recently had one of my clients who got free aid that told me there was no way they would qualify for anything. If you are lucky enough to get a Pell Grant from FAFSA, then you won’t have to pay them back.