I remember when I got my FAFSA (Free Application For Student Aid) letter with the amount of loans I needed to take out for university. I didn’t think about the payments I would have to make four years from now, I simply took out the amount offered and decided I would ‘deal’ with it later (this could probably be called ‘entering with blinders on’). Now I am ‘dealing’ with those payments I set up for myself, as well as, new debts and major purchases that I didn’t consider. Of course my friend- Hindsight -keeps reminding me if I’d done things differently I wouldn’t be in this situation. But hindsight is always clearer after the decision has been made.
For those of you considering student loans to finance your education (If you already have student loans, check out my article on lowering student loan payments), I have comprised some tips that I have personally learned and from doing research on the matter (I am not an expert! Check out my disclaimer for proof). Hopefully this will be helpful to keep you from having the hindsight regret that I have, and to be better prepared for your future.
1. Consider attending a junior college before transferring to university.
Attending a two-year college doesn’t mean that you can’t go to a four-year university right after high school. Many high schools offer dual credit courses, and some will pay for additional college classes if you decide to go to a nearby junior college. This was a huge benefit for me in high school! By taking college classes and dual credit courses, I graduated high school with 32 college credits to transfer to a university. This helped my graduate in 3 years, which is a savings of almost $20,000 of debt that I would have borrowed. If you aren’t sure if this is something your school offers, ask your guidance counselor or if you know they don’t, talk to your principal about adding this option.
2. Apply for scholarships and grants.
Scholarships and grants are important for finding free money that you don’t have to pay back. Most of the time you are offered these for academics, athletics, and specific majors, but there are always unconventional offers too. You simply need to know where to look.
The best place to start, I found, is to fill out your FAFSA. This means if you’re filing your taxes, you need to do them soon after you get your W2. The FAFSA needs to be completed early to qualify for certain grants. I’ve also found these sites to help you find some scholarships or you can always do a quick internet search for other options:
3. Don’t take out the max amount allotted.
When you get your financial aid letter, it tells you how much in grants you qualify for then tells you to take the remainder out in loans. This doesn’t mean, and shouldn’t mean, the amount you should take out. These are just guesstimates on the budget for your school year and there are many ways to save money or find new ways to pay than through adding student loan debt.
Instead, you could consider:
- A work study program or having a part-time job to take care of certain costs while in school.
- Living off campus and sharing an apartment with friends.
- Yes, living on campus is important- and sometimes required -your first year in school to meet people and to adjust to collegiate life. But once you have a friend base, or basic understanding for the campus, I would suggest moving to less expensive housing that doesn’t require the heavy cost of a meal plan.
- Consider renting or purchasing secondhand supplies and books.
- The library also has textbooks available that you can borrow for free. It’s subject to availability, so you would need to check once you decide on your schedule. Or you can always talk to a friend in the same class and consider book sharing.
Above all, get creative with your spending and savings. It’s going to make things easier after graduation to have flexibility on finding a job and place to live. And if you have to live at home again for a little while to save money, that’s ok– so long as you plan on moving out before you’re thirty.