College tuition costs can be a scary financial responsibility to take on. These days, many college grads are leaving school with $50,000 – $100,000 in student debt with no real plan for how to pay it back. Luckily, students do not need to put their entire education on credit in order to attend the college of their choice. Nor, should a lack of deep family pockets or personal financial success be a hindrance to the student who is dedicated to cutting his or her tuition costs. The following strategies explain a smarter way to finance your four years at college. If you are serious about paying less, you should take the time to put some of these tips into practice.
Search Thoroughly For Scholarships.
Scholarships are perhaps the best way to finance your education because the money you receive does not need to be repaid. Contrary to popular belief, scholarships are not just for geniuses with stellar grades. In fact, there are actually countless scholarships out there for the taking, and not all of them are especially difficult to attain. Some are offered for academic talents, others for essay writing, and still others are offered for ethnic background, career goals and economic standing.
Talk to your school’s financial aid department to help you get started on your search for scholarship opportunities, or just go online and begin the hunt on your own. There is no limit to the amount of scholarships you can apply for, nor is there a cap on how many you can achieve, so search long and hard for as many as possible.
Federal Pell Grants.
If your family makes under $20,000 a year, you automatically qualify for a Federall Pell Grant. Pell grants come in sums of a few thousand dollars per year of school or less, depending on the student’s financial need. This makes Pell Grants ideal for purchasing books, binders, and other school supplies with. Perhaps the best quality of Pell Grants is that they do not need to be paid back, maning them an excellent substitute for more student loans. Filling out your FAFSA will show you how much Pell Grant money you are qualified to receive.
National SMART Grant.
Recipients of Federal Pell Grants who are in their third or fourth year in college might also qualify for a National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent. This grant provides students who have done well in the fields of science, technology, mathematics, foreign language, or engineering with $4,000 toward their educational needs. The money can be used for tuition, room and board, or any other academic expense that the student may incur. Like the Pell Grant mentioned above, students are not required to pay back SMART grants.
Student PLUS Loans.
If your family does not qualify for a Federal Pell Grant and you must take out student loans, Student PLUS loans are a great way to go. The great thing about PLUS loans is that they are federally backed and generally come with lower interest rates than many private lenders can offer. PLUS loans may not be able to cover all of your financial needs, but they serve as a great addition to other grants, scholarships and traditional loans you may already have. In order to qualify, your parents must currently claim you and a dependent on their tax return.
Save Money at Community College.
Most new college students are unaware of the fact that all degree programs at a university require them to take the same core classes before specializing in their major. These core classes often include common subjects such as math, humanities, social science, and literature. By enrolling at a community college, you can fulfill core requirements for far less money than they cost at private or state universities.
When you are done with the core classes, most schools will accept the credits you earned at community college and immediately start you in your specialized major classes. When you graduate, you will end up with a degree from your chosen university just as if you went there all four years, but your student loans will be cut almost in half.
If the above didn’t convince you that going to community college for the first year or two of your degree was a smart decision, consider the following. Many schools now award high-performing community college students with scholarship money to transfer to their school. This means that simply being a good student with an above average GPA at a community school might qualify you for thousands of dollars in annual scholarship money, without any additional effort on your part. Considering that you are already paying far less to attend community college, this strategy can easily save students a serious chunk of change on tuition.
Get a Job at Your College.
Many schools offer tuition reimbursement programs for students who work at the college. By performing a low-stress job for the school, such as a secretary, library assistant, or grounds cleaner, you can actually earn money toward your tuition. You may not receive a traditional paycheck, but when you register for classes you will see the money you earned deducted from your tuition bill. Every school manages these programs in their own unique way, so stop in to your financial aid department and ask about the opportunities on campus you qualify for.
About the Author: Kara Taylor writes for Campus Explorer.