How to Make Paying For College Less Overwhelming
This article was recently published in CommunityAmerica's "Let's Talk Money" section of the Kansas City Star.
Even with careful saving, planning, and scholarship money, there is often a gap in affording a college education, leaving students and families responsible for all or some portion of the overall cost. The fees can seem never-ending, making the price exorbitant.
This is a reality many families face, and you are not alone in funding your child’s education. At CommunityAmerica, we have resources to help you plan for these expenses up front so that education costs don’t take your budget by surprise. Below are several considerations for making your students' higher education more affordable and leaving college with the least amount of debt possible.
Loan TypesThe best loan option is the Federal Student Loan. This loan’s max is $5,500 for the first year, $6,500 for the second and $7,500 for subsequent years with a max of $31,000 for a bachelor’s degree. This choice offers:
- the lowest interest rates
- subsidized options
- the best repayment plans
- the student assuming the debt
While the U.S. Department of Education's Parent PLUS loan may be the most familiar kind of loan, it might not be the best option and is not your only choice. This type of loan often has a higher interest rate than secondary loans. It makes the parent the borrower, leaving them responsible for all payments, with no option to transfer debts to the student.
It will work to your advantage to investigate what other banks and credit unions have to offer and reserve the Parent PLUS Loan as a backup option. CommunityAmerica offers a student loanthat functions as a line of credit that might be the right fit for your family.
Ways to Reduce CostsA post-secondary education comes with some unavoidable expenses, such as books and tuition. However, there are ways to reduce your overall cost of college by saving in other areas.
Applying For a Campus Job
There are several jobs for the taking on campus, such as becoming a desk assistant, working in the rec facility, or becoming a residential assistant (RA). These positions offer a bit of income and may even provide free room and board. They are easily accessible and provide more structure for a college student's experience.
Some universities do not allow students to live off-campus, but if it is allowed, this might be a feasible way to save some extra money. You should consider where your school is located and the cost of living there, as well as additional expenses such as utilities and transportation to campus. Finding roommates to split rent can also further reduce your living expenses..
The first year is widely considered the most expensive year of a college education. Many students choose to attend a community college for the first year or two of their education because their tuition rates are typically a fraction of the cost of state or private universities. They can knock out their general education classes and give themselves time to consider what they want their study focus to be.
Obtaining Department Scholarships
Once a student has settled on a major, it's crucial they get to know the faculty and staff in their department. There may be departmental scholarships available that are not always known. Often, faculty choose these scholarship recipients, making it important for students to know their professors and advisors.
Getting involved on campus by trying clubs and rec activities will expose students to the kinds of aid and scholarships that may be available in those areas as well.
Graduate on TimeOnly 44% of bachelor's degree recipients completed their degree in 48 months or less, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students should set realistic expectations for how long it may take to complete their education and plan their workload around graduating on time to avoid taking out more loans.
Take A Year Off to SaveThere is no rule implying students must attend college right after graduating high school. If it does not make financial sense for your family, there is always the option to take some time off to save. Families should not take on more debt they cannot afford if college is not feasible at that exact moment.
Discussing Expenses as a FamilyIt can be difficult seeing your student as a young adult; however, in a few short months they will have more independence than ever before, making it a crucial time to discuss money and finances with them. Don't avoid discussions on money, especially regarding funding their college education. It is important to plan together and be clear about how and who will cover additional costs not covered by loans.
If you have multiple children’s colleges to fund, it is wise to decide ahead of time how much you can contribute per student.
Next StepsResearch: Our College & Career Planning page features tools that will help you determine what you and your student can afford and what you and your student may pay for college based on where you live and your income level.
New Podcast: Check out our most recent podcast below for more information on ways to make your college education more affordable.
Make an Appointment: I'd be happy to meet with you. As CommunityAmerica's dedicated college and career planner, I can guide you in finding options that work for your family.