As the summer winds down, many of us face the challenge of sending our darling children back to the classroom. Many of you have kids that are about to take the big step that occurs after high school…College. College sticker prices these days can match the price tag on a high end automobile. But there’s a big difference between college and cars: While no dealer will cut the cost of a car in half based on need, there are resources available to students that can radically reduce the cost of college. While it’s true that those from high-income and high-net-worth families may find it more difficult to find help, nearly every student willing to look can find some relief. Here are five ideas…
1. Start with a net price calculator
The Department of Education website http://collegecost.ed.gov/netpricecenter.aspx has a new tool to help you find a ballpark estimate for the specific schools for which you are interested. Put in the required information and get the estimated net price: the estimated cost of attendance (tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board and other related expenses) minus estimated grant and scholarship aid. Every college has been required to offer this info since October 2011.
2. Apply for FAFSA
FAFSA stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid.” Students should fill it out in the spring before graduating high school and every year they’re enrolled – even if they don’t think they’ll qualify for aid This standardized form is crucial because it tells the school’s financial aid office you’re interested in whatever opportunities are available. Nearly every scholarship, work-study, and other type of student aid available starts with the FAFSA form. You are able to fill it out online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
3. Hunt for scholarships
Filling out the FAFSA can make you eligible for a bounty of aid, and many university financial aid departments do a good job of pointing students toward opportunities. But don’t rely on them alone.
Find and apply to everything you can, because there’s more financial aid out there than you might think The College Board Scholarship Board (https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/scholarships-grants) alone claims to check “scholarships, other financial aid and internships from more than 2,200 programs, totaling nearly $6 billion.”
And you don’t have to have great grades or test scores to find help. There are scholarships based on everything from your height to the community in which you live to a passion for the science behind wine.
4. Look at alternative ways to get or fast-track your education
The traditional four-year route is expensive – especially at a private school. But there are ways to cut corners without cutting down on your education.
For instance, look into accelerated programs that push you harder but take three years instead of four. If you’re going for a higher degree, check out programs that combine bachelor’s and master’s tracks, or master’s and doctoral work.
Consider starting at a community college (College of DuPage is one of the best in the United States) and getting general education requirements out of the way at a cheaper price, then transferring to a university. You need to ensure the credits will transfer with you: The College Board’s Match Maker https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search can help you find schools that have agreements to do so.
There are also ways to get credit without taking college classes. High school Advanced Placement (AP) courses can give you a head start, and while you have to pass an $87 exam for credit, that’s far cheaper and quicker than retaking the class in college. Some high schools also partner with nearby colleges to offer dual-enrollment programs – these meet both high school and college requirements at the same time.
5. Take loans as a last resort
If you can’t cover the costs after aid, there’s another option: student loans. As the name implies, you have to pay these back, and starting life with a huge debt burden is no fun. So keep them to a minimum – one rule of thumb says no more than twice the salary an entry-level worker makes for your field of study.
Seek government-backed loans that subsidize the interest charged and offer more flexible repayment terms before turning to private loans.
Bottom line? Don’t let the headlines about spiraling college costs convince you a higher education is unattainable. If you’re willing to do the legwork, there are options available for you.