Tuition costs have more than doubled at all school types in the last 30 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This has led to more student loans and higher student debt. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that more than 60 percent of students borrow money each year to cover costs. The average borrower graduates with more than $26,000 in debt. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to combat the rising cost of college and reduce the amount that needs to be borrowed.
Prepay tuition plans are available in a number of states. These 529 plans allow you to begin paying for tuition now so that you can lock-in a price at today’s rates at a state college or university. These plans can really pay off for young children. The average tuition hike at public schools has been averaging five percent per year. Paying today’s price instead of the price that will be seen in 2023 or 2028 could save you thousands. Of course, these plans aren’t necessarily risk-free, particularly in certain states. Read the fine print to make sure your investments are guaranteed.
The era of social networking has made it easier than ever to get help from those around you. Sites like GreenNote.com make it even easier. Instead of gifting ugly sweaters and other things people don’t want, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone else you can think of can give you online donations for your higher education. Your benefactors won’t be subject to federal gift tax, unless they give you more than $14,000, and they can feel good about contributing to your higher education.
Talk to Financial Aid Officers
Financial aid officers rarely negotiate like a used car rep, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you if you have special circumstances. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) doesn’t have a field for every financial issue. If you or your parents help to support a grandparent or have other financial responsibilities/situations not accounted for on the form, the financial aid officer at your school of choice may be able to change some of your numbers to more accurately reflect your family’s ability to pay. This will get you more aid and leave you paying less out of pocket. When talking with financial officers, remember to ask (rather than negotiate) and be polite (rather than demanding.)
Seriously Look for Scholarships
Scholarships rarely fall right into your lap. You will have to aggressively search and apply for opportunities. The most scholarships are available to first-year college students and students who have declared a major, but there are awards out there for everyone. Look locally and nationally. Look online and speak with financial aid officers. Ask about current and upcoming scholarships. Finally, consider free membership on several of the many scholarship websites online. These sites report on scholarships regularly and can even notify you about scholarships you are eligible for.
Ask About On-Campus Jobs
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Work-study programs can really help to offset the cost of college. If you don’t qualify for a work-study package, be sure to ask about on-campus jobs. Even the smallest schools tend to offer these opportunities. You may be able to save on housing or food costs by helping out in the kitchen or working in the student health center once a week.
Compare Costs Before and After Applying
It can be hard to save money on college if you apply to pricey schools with poor financial aid offerings. If you are serious about spending less on your education, you’ll need to start doing your homework long before you begin school. Compare costs online; many schools publish fees right on their websites. You can also use rankings of affordable schools, such as those found on TheBestColleges.org. After getting accepted to a few affordable schools, compare financial aid packages to see who is really offering the best price.