The thought of going off to college after you wrap up your high school career can be an exciting one. It can signal new friends, new life experiences, and the opportunity to start shaping the direction of your eventual career. Or maybe you’re a little older and want a change of direction, and you decide that a college degree is going to help you do that. Either way, going to school can be the beginning of a new and exciting chapter.
But if you’re considering going back to school, you’ll likely need to deal with the reality of the high cost of a college education and the challenges that come with financing your degree. How can you manage to pay for your education when tuition costs are rising faster than your income, or you have minimal income in the first place?
While it can be a challenge, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible. The key is to educate yourself, learn what financing options may be available to you, and start the process as early as possible. It can be daunting, but the tips we’re going to go over today may be able to help you with financing your higher education.
1. Look into Scholarships
One of the first things you should do on your quest to finance your college education is to start looking into scholarship programs. The key is to match the skills or characteristics that set you apart with what a particular school is looking for. Maybe you play an instrument or a sport, meet a certain academic threshold, or you write an amazing application essay. These are all routes that may potentially lead to a scholarship.
You may also be able to find scholarships from non-academic institutions. For example, MoneyKey awards $1,000 to a recipient twice per academic year through the Key Thinkers Scholarship. It’s intended for post-secondary students who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and is an opportunity for students to be a voice in the growing conversation about financial responsibility.
Start this process by doing research online. You can visit the database hosted by the Department of Labor and search through over 8,000 scholarships and other financial aid opportunities. For each scholarship, you’ll be able to see the level of study the scholarship is applicable for, the amount of money you’d receive, and the deadline to apply.
You can also look into an app like Scholly to help find scholarships that would be suited to you. You’ll need to give some information about yourself, and then it’ll start to send you scholarships that it thinks may fit your situation.
2. Leverage Grants
After or during your search for scholarships, you should start to look into grants. A grant is money that’s typically provided by the government for students looking to go to college. The big difference between a grant and a student loan is that typically, grants don’t have to be paid back. They can be given by your federal or state government, the school you’re going to be attending, or certain private or non-profit organizations.
While the potential of getting free money to go towards your education is a great opportunity, they’re generally only presented to people with a financial need. Just like with scholarships, make sure you do your research to find out what you may be able to qualify for.
3. Work Programs
If you want to work during your time in school to help with financing higher education, you may be able to find opportunities to work through your school. These work programs will help you make money to go towards your school expenses and still keep up your studies.
You may also want to consider going into a field that could give you the opportunity to get paid to go to school. Certain workplaces will either reimburse you for the cost of tuition or pay for you to get additional training in your field.
4. Factor in the Cost of Living
Unless you’re going to school near your home and have the opportunity to live with family, your cost of living is likely going to be one of your biggest areas of expense, so it’s important you factor it in when deciding where to go to school.
Depending on location, things like housing and other major living expenses are going to vary. For example, renting an apartment in San Francisco or New York City is likely going to be a fair bit more expensive than living in a small college town. And it doesn’t necessarily stop with your time in school. In some cases, the place you get your degree can impact where you’ll likely end up living and working when you’ve finished getting your degree, so going to school in a city with a high cost of living can have effects that linger.
Because of this, you should pay attention to where you’d like to eventually live once you’ve graduated, and factor in the cost of living there. Try to find a balance between somewhere that you could see yourself living, that has a good school, and that’s affordable.
5. Borrow Money Responsibly
In most cases, taking out a loan won’t be your first choice, but when you’ve exhausted your other options, it may be all that’s left. The key is to borrow money responsibly.
With student loans, you’ll receive funds to help you pay for educational expenses, but they differ from scholarships and grants in that you’ll need to repay them with interest and/or fees. Typically, you can separate these loans into two different categories: subsidized and unsubsidized. One of the distinguishing factors between them is that with subsidized loans, you won’t need to pay the interest on your loan that accrues before you’ve graduated, whereas with unsubsidized loans, you’ll need to pay the interest that builds up throughout the entire length of your loan.
When you’re considering borrowing money, you should always make sure that you don’t borrow more than you actually need. You may end qualifying for more than you would need to in order to finance your college education, but just remember that the more you end up borrowing, the more interest you’ll need to pay down the line. If you do end up taking out a student loan, here are some tips that may help you manage these payments.
6. Go After the Right Jobs to Finance Higher Education
Working after school and/or in the summer leading up to going to school is a common practice when you’re financing higher education. This money may need to stretch a long way to help you pay for school expenses, and if this is the case, you’re going to want to make this period count.
To start, you may want to get in touch with a temp agency to find you work in an office that may pay more than your typical summer job. These agencies do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to looking for a job, and while they may not be for everyone, office jobs can come with certain perks. They’ll often pay more than minimum wage, they could help connect you to people or workplaces that could help you land a job when you’re a new grad, and depending on what work you’re looking to go into, they could provide you with valuable experience in your field.
But like we mentioned, these types of jobs may not be everyone’s cup of tea, or you may just have a hard time landing one. If that’s the case, look for work that can help to lower some of your living expenses. For example, maybe you can work at a grocery store that provides discounts on food to employees. While this job may be minimum wage, it can help you shave off some amount from what’s likely one of your biggest expenses.
If you need some more ideas of what type of work to look for over the summer, take a look at this list.
7. Consider Being a Part-Time Student
In order to finance a college education, a lot of people will need to work throughout the year to do so. But depending on what degree you’re looking to get, the demands of schoolwork may take up all of your time. If you find yourself in this scenario, you may want to consider going to school part-time so you can keep working throughout the year. This may be a smart move even if you could, in theory, still work while taking on a full course load.
There may be some drawbacks to only being a part-time student. Certain schools may restrict these students from living on campus, and it may be a little harder to get involved with the social aspect of school. You’ll also need to consider the nature of your student loans. Some may require you to be in school a certain amount of the time, otherwise you could risk having to repay your loan earlier than expected.
You may also want to consider taking some time off between high school and college. During this time, you can find full-time work which can go a long way in helping you handle your school expenses. If you don’t want to wait but still need to work, you may be able to work full-time and try to take most of your classes in the evening and on the weekends. It might take longer than the usual four years to get your degree, but it can make the cost more manageable.
Don’t Give Up on Financing Higher Education
It’s normal to look at the cost of an education and be daunted by the idea of finding a way to pay your way through school. It might seem overwhelming, but if you work hard, plan out your efforts carefully, and stay patient, it’s possible.
Stay dedicated to the cause, and we hope these tips we’ve given can help you on your quest to finance your education!