As the cost of college continues to rise several times more than the rate of inflation, the problem of affording a college education has grown exponentially. With many top colleges boasting price tags of over $40,000 dollars a year, many people may feel that they can never afford a college education. Fortunately, there are several routes to help reduce or even eliminate the cost of college, if you plan ahead.
1. Financial Aid
Financial aid is monetary aid that students receive directly for their education. It is distributed on a needs only basis with poorer students and students with multiple siblings generally qualifying for more aid. In order to apply for aid, most colleges require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or (FAFSA). The FAFSA will ask for basic information about the student and their family. It will require information about the financial status of the students parents/guardians that must be validated based on tax forms and Social Security Numbers. Applying for financial aid is a good first step for affording college.
Scholarships are financial aid awards given to students who fit certain criteria other than simple need. Generally, to qualify for a scholarship you need to maintain a certain academic standards of achievement. For example, you might need at least a 3.0 GPA to qualify. Many scholarships reserved for certain demographics. This includes factors such as race, gender, where one lives, and intended college major. Certain scholarships also require students to demonstrate achievement outside of the scholastic area such as excellence in sports or leadership. Talking to school counselors is a good first course of action when trying to find out which scholarships are available in your area. For less well known scholarships, searching online on reputable sites such as College Board can turn up a myriad of previously unknown options.
3. State Schools and Community Colleges
A good way to cut down the cost of a college education is to take advantage of the discounted rates offered by colleges in your surrounding area. For in state residents, choosing to attend a state university can potentially cut one’s bill by more than half. If you live in a state with less than stellar state schools and wish to attend a higher ranking university, there is always the option to attend in-state colleges for a few years and then transfer to a better college. Similarly, students can opt for community colleges for a year or two then transfer to a traditional four year university. Both options can be excellent ways of reducing the final bill.
4. The Military Route
For people who want to serve the country and obtain a college degree, the military route can be an excellent option for affording a college education. Enrolling in a military college such as United States Naval Academy will mean that students will not only have their education and housing provided free of charge, but they will also receive a small monthly salary to pay for school supplies. However, it should be noted that the military route does come with restrictions. Students must adhere to codes of conduct while at military colleges that are usually stricter than those at other universities as well as strict physical training regimes. Additionally, upon graduation students are obligated to serve in the U.S. military for minimum of 5 years after graduation. While many people will balk at being locked in to something for this long, having a guaranteed job after college can be seen as a great positive.
Barring other options, a student can always result to loans in order to pay for college. The reason why loans should not really be first choice option is because ultimately, they will have to be repaid. Not only that, but because of the interest on the loans the price of repayment is higher than the price of the loan itself. Stafford Student Loans, the go to loan system for students, will be charging a 6.8% interest rate for 2012-2013 year. As this number is greater than the rate of inflation (between 2-3%), students who choose loans will not only be paying more for their education in normative value but in real value as well. Thus it is advisable to try to avoid taking out a student loan unless the other options have been ruled out necessary.
There are several ways to finance a college education. Cost should no be a reason not to attend college. Research shows that those who obtain a college degree earn more on average over those who do not. Plan ahead and take advantage of some of the financial resources that are available.
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