It’s coming up on the time of year we all know is coming, back to school. For many the process is similar, get the supply list from the teacher, go shopping for new clothes, and supplies. However, for the newly graduated student who is about to embark on college or the individual looking to return to college the whole idea of ‘back-to-school” suddenly becomes an overwhelming process. There’s the idea of getting enrolled into college, figuring out your course schedule, and then the big one of them all, financial aid funding.
Signing up for financial aid, whether loans, grants, or scholarships can be daunting and can leave you reeling with the idea that when you come out on the other side of this educational journey you will have a massive mountain of debt to repay. Don’t despair!! There are many ways you, as a college student, can be wise about how you approach funding your college education to keep your loan repayments as low as possible.
The most common methods of funding for college are loans. You are told we have been approved for a financial aid loan, you have money in the form of a subsidized loan and more coming in the form of an unsubsidized loan. But what is the difference? An unsubsidized loan is a loan that accrues interest while you are in school but the loan repayment period is often deferred until you cease attending college. A subsidized loan the government will pay the interest on the loan until you stop attending college. Be aware, as a borrower, your repayment time does not require you to graduate, if you stop attending college regardless of whether you graduated or not, your loans go out of deferment and repayment begins.
Now that we understand a bit more about the two most common loans, let’s look at other methods of paying for college.
There are so many scholarships out there and all up for grabs. Check with your employer, see if they offer a scholarship program, check with your bank, check with anything you have a membership. If they offer a scholarship that’s more money toward your education and that much less you need in loans, even if it’s just $100, that could help cover lab fees or the cost of some of your pricier textbooks!
In addition to asking around there are various search sites solely dedicated to helping you search for scholarships including: Scholarships.com, Fastweb, Unigo, and Cappex. Before starting in on the search pages, start by making a list of what you might qualify for, nothing is off the table. There are scholarships for just about everything! There’s even a scholarship for being left-handed and one out there tied to an ugliest face contest! If you qualify go for it!
You will need to spend a little time on scholarship hunting as some will require essays or a project of some kind but the end result will be worth it. Every dollar you earn in scholarship funding is one less dollar in loans you have to repay once you finish school.
Grants are another wonderful way to pay for college and many are government funded. The most common grant you may run into is a Pell Grant. There are others as well including: Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Academic Competitiveness Grant, and SMART Grant. The website CollegeScholarships.org has some great information all about grant possibilities and all designed to help you lower your educational cost.
Need language credits and are fluent in a language? Perhaps there is a topic you know really well but are required to take the class as part of the program requirements. Check to see if you can use CLEP or PLA to test out of a class. The College Level Examination Program or CLEP allows students to take an exam to prove they are competent in a subject allowing them to earn college credits. The Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) allows students to demonstrate their knowledge in a topic to earn college credit. While there is usually a fee associated with either program, it is often much lower than the cost of a class. Be aware though, talk to your college advisor before pursuing either of these programs as some colleges do have a maximum number of credits a student can earn toward their degree.
Know Where You Are
One of the most important areas of funding your education is knowing where you stand. Knowing how much you have borrowed and keeping tabs will help you know where you stand overall in your college funding and will help avoid ‘sticker shock’ when you receive your repayment notice.
Students can access the National Student Loan Database (NSLDS) to check their student loan debt totals at http://nslds.ed.gov, once on the site you will be asked for some personal info like: last name, date of birth, FSA ID to pull up student loan information for the individual.
Last, and certainly not least, is spending wisely. There are many things you can do as a student to lower the amount of money you have to repay at the end of your education.
- Check with employer for tuition reimbursement. If your employer offers a reimbursement program it is definitely worth pursuing.
- Borrow only what you need, you are not required to take the maximum amount you are offered, you can take less. Remember, you do have to pay this back.
- Remember those pesky unsubsidized loans that are happily accruing interest while you are working hard on those classes? You can lower your loan amounts by paying on that interest while in school to decrease what is owed once loan is out of deferment.
- Pay out of pocket. If you can afford to do so, try covering some of your educational expenses by paying for the class or material yourself. Talk to an advisor at your college as well about setting up payment plans for future classes too.
- Spend Wisely! Remember that loans are only to be used for school related expenses. Supplies like textbooks, programs for classes, and even a computer for school are okay. If you need internet to attend school and wouldn’t otherwise be able to cover the cost, that’s where financial aid funding can help. However, don’t go and pay for a vacation or presents with your student loans those are definitely not considered an education related expense.
There are so many options you can pursue to lower the cost of your education, look into them all and pursue them. With a bit of luck and persistence you can graduate from college with a lot less debt to repay!