A college education is something that we encourage everyone to accomplish. We share the many potential benefits of going on to higher education including social and economic benefits. What we often do not talk about is the costs associated with higher education. Too many of us find ourselves saddled with unimaginable student debts that can impact us for the rest of our lives. For those of us who dream of higher education but have no idea how we will pay for it we can relax knowing we have many options available to us.
The first step is taking an honest look at what educational costs we might have and how we might minimize those costs. Knowing that higher education is likely to cost more than you think it will, there is no shame in realizing you are going to have to think outside the box to pay for it. Some costs such as tuition can be minimized by starting our educational careers in a 2 year school and transferring to another institution at a later date or by taking 1 or 2 courses at a time to minimize our costs. Some costs such as housing can be minimized by commuting from home, or by sharing an apartment with friends. Some costs such as books and supplies can be minimized by ordering used books, sharing books with classmates, or even asking our professors for possible alternatives.
After taking a good look at what going to college will cost you the second step is to explore all your financial options before taking out a student loan. This is why it is important to fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA is what most colleges and universities use to determine how much student aid you will receive. Next research what scholarships (both need based and merit based) you might be a good fit for you. Depending on your background, your interests, or your income there are a wide range of scholarships available. Finally consider other ways you can hustle income such as through working or side gigs.
Finally if you find you need additional funding you may find you need to take out a student loan. Student loans typically have a lower interest rates than traditional loans and have different terms such as allowing you to put your loan in deferment until you have completed your education. While you may be offered a wide range of student loan options both by your school and by private loan providers it is important to carefully consider your options. It is too easy to find ourselves over our head and realize that we have taken out a student loan debt that will follow us for the rest of our lives.
If you know that neither you nor your close family or friends have a good grasp of all your options it might be time to ask for help from an outsider. There are many apps, websites, and even financial planners who for little to no cost will go through your options with you step by step. Financial aid is complex, it is normal to be confused and not know what options are best for you, this means it is up to you to ask when you need help.
When you have your heart set on going to college, it can be wonderful when you have that acceptance letter in your hand. You might want to jump for joy. This is a moment to celebrate but also to take a moment and think about the financial costs. If you take the time to consider your finances you will be more able to enjoy your higher education experience. You will have the freedom of knowing you can learn without worrying about how you will be paying off your debts for the rest of your life.