Perhaps the single most daunting aspect of college is the enormous financial obligation that comes with it. For parents, sending a child off to college can mean stretching family finances further than ever before. For students, college likely means taking the first real steps into managing their own finances. Here are some tips to help students and families manage college costs:
-Start the planning process early. As a prospective student, you should start weighing schools both academically and financially well in advance of the application deadline. A good time to start is during your junior year of high school. Starting early will ensure that you meet any deadlines for school-specific scholarships, which can differ from the actual application deadline.
-Understand your FAFSA.
The FAFSA process will determine most—if not all—of your financial aid trajectory for your college experience. Schools use your FAFSA to determine how much federal aid you receive, in the form of loans, grants and work study awards.
-Consider all the costs of college.
The fact is, college is not simply a matter of tuition. Going away to a school means that you’ll need to figure in food, housing, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses to your financial plan. Having a part-time job during the academic year and sticking to a budget can help you manage these costs.
-Maximize your time.
Once you’ve selected a school, carefully review your academic plan, and keep in constant communication with your academic advisor. It’s incredibly easy to waste thousands of dollars taking classes you don’t need—so make sure that every class you take will count toward your degree. Staying on track and taking a full credit load could even mean graduating early—a huge cost savings. So avoid the temptation to take that Underwater Basket Weaving Class—unless it’s a graduation requirement.
-Hunt for scholarships.
Large sites like Fastweb can link you to thousands of scholarships, but keep in mind that larger sites mean more applicants for each award. Check with local organizations in your community—many local businesses, chambers of commerce or other organizations offer scholarship money. Remember that every little bit helps—it may not seems worth it to put an application packet together for $500, but you’ll thank yourself when you see your textbook bill for your first semester.
-And speaking of books…buy used!
A great way to save a little bit of cash is to be smart about where you buy things like textbooks. University-owned campus bookstores are a convenient option for books and supplies, but more often than not, you can find things cheaper elsewhere. Get a copy of your required reading from your professor and check Amazon or a local used books vendor.
Always remember that college is an investment in your future. And, as with any investment, you’re banking on the fact that what you put into your education will come back to you when you enter the workforce with a degree. With a lot of planning, a little luck and some good financial habits, your hard work will pay off!
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