BY DANIKA McLURE
Earning a college degree isn’t cheap.
For those who have been through the process themselves, this point is obvious. According to Today, the average cost of attending university is nearly $13,000 for a full year of tuition, while private school tuition is nearly $28,000. The average cost for a year at the top 10 schools in Forbes’ ranking of America’s Top Colleges is nearly $64,602 each year.
But while costs have been increasing, the job market has largely been unable to keep up, meaning that having a college degree no longer guarantees a well paying job. Colleges and universities have since had to overcome a number of obstacles to prove that their degrees will be valuable for their students.
“One obstacle has been the poor ways in which colleges have conveyed the importance of the liberal arts,” Professor Jay Halfond of Boston University’s Metropolitan College wrote recently. “The escalating cost of higher education has accelerated the pressures to show the tuition ROI. This, in turn, has raised serious questions about the value of non-vocational learning,” he continued.
While this may be true, students still rely on higher education as a bridge to more gainful and fulfilling employment. Meaning that for many, high paying STEM and business degrees become a infinitely more attractive.
Still, college affordability remains a hot button issue. Although some students may have the fiscal resources to make it through college without incurring huge amounts of debt, many students struggle with finances during their college years.
Thankfully, there are a number of things that students can do in order to avoid breaking the bank during their college years. With careful planning, students can help combat the trends of rising college tuition.
Take Scholarship and Grant Applications Seriously
Scholarships are one of the best ways to fund your college education, due to the fact that you never have to repay those funds. Scholarships are a great option for those who have worked to maintain a high GPA, excel in sports or extracurriculars, or are interested in the liberal arts. There are plenty of resources and databases available for interested students, including FastWeb, FinAid, and the College Board.
Similarly, grants do not have to be repaid. However, rather than being based on merit, grants are typically awarded to students based on their financial need.
Be Sure to Apply for Federal Student Aid
For those familiar with the higher education sphere, filling out your FAFSA each year is a normal process. The FAFSA helps individuals secure federal grants and state aid in order to help them more easily pay for college. In order to secure these federal grants, it’s important that you complete your form as early as January 1 of each year.
Use Loans Appropriately, and as a Last Resort
For many students, loans are unavoidable. In those situations, opt for subsidized loans if available. Subsidized loans are ideal, as the federal government pays the grace period while you’re in school, meaning that you’re not responsible for the interest rate until you begin repaying your student loans.
Choose the Right College
Private schools do have universal appeal, but there are a number of options that allow students to receive a high quality education for a more affordable price. For those interested in staying in their hometowns, public state universities often cost less, as do community colleges. Private schools with smaller classrooms are also an attractive option for those concerned with cost and quality of education. Regardless of where you choose to attend school, it’s important to be sure that your school has proper accreditation.
Pursue Tax Credits, If Possible
For students who are single filers on their income taxes, it may be worth it to explore tax credits. If you make less than $55,000 per year, you may qualify for a Hope credit, or a Lifetime Learning Credit, which could help to offset the cost of college.
Find Affordable Housing
Many colleges offer housing to their students in an effort to keep them connected with the college culture and provide a safe environment where students can learn and stay close to the school. Depending on the location of the school, however, on-campus housing may not be the most affordable option.
Unfortunately, many young students struggle with low credit scores, which could affect their opportunities to find off-campus housing. However, having bad credit doesn’t necessarily mean that students will be unable to find affordable housing.
As the finance experts at Fiscal Tiger note, bad credit doesn’t necessarily mean that those with bad credit will be disqualified for housing in fact, with honesty and negotiation, landlords and property managers are often keen on renting to those with a bad credit history.
Pay Attention to Your Food Costs
Most colleges offer meal plan packages to their students. However, those can be incredibly expensive. Be sure to pay attention to what your school has to offer, and from there, determine whether or not making food on your own is worth the time and money.
Find Affordable College Textbooks
While it can be convenient to get your books from the on-campus store, it’s also possible to find textbooks from outside sources at a better value. There are a number of online options available, including Amazon, that have textbooks available to buy or rent, which could potentially save hundreds of dollars a year.
Earning a college education isn’t cheap. For students interested in graduating from college debt free, frugal living is a must. By following the steps above, students will be well on their way to fiscal success.
Danika McClure is a writer and musician from the northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl