Facing the struggle so many would-be college students do, the ability to pay for a college education is increasingly a far-fetched privilege. Negotiating the student loan industry is tedious and difficult. Working while attending college is a drain. Saving for college is a long and fraught process. Families no longer have the ability to think in terms of a college education for their children. In today’s economy, it is tough enough living day-to-day. Aside from the lengthy certification/degree process, matters of accommodations while attending college and cost of living hang over the heads of many. However, the need for a college education only grows. A baccalaureate degree today increasingly seems to only carry as much weight as a high school diploma did 50 years ago. The question then becomes, ‘how can I pay for college?’
To brainstorm solutions to the growing problem of college funding, one must keep an ear to the ground for opportunities. The ‘brightest’ and ‘shiniest’ college tracks are often the most fraught with white-collar fraud. Common problems within community colleges as well as state universities include extortionately expensive courses, degree programs that may or may not prove useful and the all too familiar accreditation problems.
It is a well-known fact that young graduates and their families stress and struggle for years if not decades throughout and after a young person's college career to pay off college loans. It is also growing knowledge that even if the desirable end product of a college degree, a good paying job, is achieved, most income and then some will go to paying off college loan sharks as opposed to helping young people build their future. With so many obstacles to obtaining a good education, let alone paying it off, more young people are feeling discouraged. There is greater pressure on families and young people alike to fight to find a way to pay for tuition, board, supplies, transportation and more. With so many elements going to a degree, parents begin stressing about college funds when their children are still in diapers.
The truth of the matter is that the system is not changing, costs are not significantly lowering and availability of accredited and viable programs is not increasing. Therefore, it falls on the shoulders of young people and their families to find resourceful ways to negotiate the college industry to their advantage. Among those ways, as with any large-scale purchase or investment, every aspect of the college must be thoroughly researched. Most people are aware of scams where the most appealing and sought after opportunity available (fill in the blank) is most prominently advertised and purchased. The same can apply to choosing the right university, university track, sourcing housing, textbooks and other resources. Many families and individuals are talked into taking out loans because of the pressure to 'pay full boat' and receive 'only the best.' Colleges will instill fear and uncertainty in candidates and then, almost like mafia protection, offer their services to negotiate this difficult situation, for a price.
Many college programs can be an academic candy store of desirable course material. However, a rut many college students fall into is having utter faith in the notion that because they are enrolled in a ‘good’ and enjoyable program, accreditation in this field will hold real world value. One must choose a college path carefully and in line with a future career path. Consider which fields will be more steadfast and in demand and weigh that with personal appeal and whether or not the field is a good fit for you. Look further down the line; not simply at trends. What skill sets and educational backgrounds will always be in demand? Consider the most basic needed skills- command of the English language, command of mathematics and the sciences, health and medicine, human services and civil service facets, culinary certification and natural resource management (i.e. ecosystems science/environmentalism/botany, etc). Also consider a minor carefully. Students often use a minor to specialize in a related field or a fallback career path (i.e. major in Anthropology, minor in History).
Applying for FAFSA, federal aid student grants and national grants including Pell Grants, Academic Competitiveness Grants and National SMART Grants are often necessary in order to pay for college. Be sure to devote plenty of time to looking around your town/city for any local scholarship or grant opportunities in addition to what is available on a national level. Maintaining academic/scholarly ins with local colleges or businesses before college can lead to future opportunities. Cast a far-reaching net of applications and inquiries. Conduct plenty of research, often state-wide or national, when choosing what grants or scholarship programs. Students often must use the power of bargaining to negotiate with the colleges of their choice, as well as with the counselors or financial aid/grant coordinators within it.
Locating an official benefactor is another important means by which students may pay for college. Organizations including AmeriCorps, National Health Services Corps, Peace Corp and ROTC programs all provide opportunities for students in need. Additionally, involvement with such organizations or history of volunteer work for a highly respected and well-known organization may swing scholarship or grant applications in the favor of the student applying.
Academic programs abroad can sometimes provide the necessary financial support. Colleges that support cultural studies in foreign countries or programs such as abroad assistanceships/scholarships can present students with excellent possibilities while funding their excursions.
When it comes to handling taxes as a student, The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit are often used to assist.
One of the best ways to ensure a smooth ride while navigating and calculating college expenses is to work in close partnership with a trusted college or pre-college guidance counselor. Consider someone who knows grant/scholarship program ins and outs. A financial aid representation/counselor or someone who can translate the bureaucratic side of the college industry would be most beneficial.
It is up to students to carve their own niche with independent ingenuity to avoid unnecessary tabs. For example, for tuition costs, look more closely into less obvious scholarship and grant opportunities. Many colleges downsize or don't make abundantly available their information on scholarship/grant opportunities. Many popular colleges have accreditation problems, which will mean money spent on programs that will no longer count. Keep an ear to the ground for less applied for opportunities as opposed to the 'new' and 'exciting.' Never rely on a single potential scholarship route. Apply for multiple colleges and many scholarship/grant opportunities.
The cost of campus room, board and meals is astronomical. Plan ahead to set up camp nearby the campus for less or calculate commute cost. It's considered a 'rite of passage' to leave one's family and suddenly achieve independence. Given today's financial reality, this is no longer a realistic goal. Calculate the money that you stand to save vs. money spent through living at home or in a nearby rental with a daily commute rather than full-blown on-campus expense. Also calculate the money saved through purchasing and cooking separate off-campus meals. If there is no way to have family resources nearby, begin networking with other students. In university communities, students do not have to rely on high-cost university-sponsored networking to find acceptable roommates off campus. One can make their own connections and settle in with a good group of helpful student allies. Never buy 'new' textbooks and supplies directly from the university. Most textbook editions are changed each year or even more frequently, yet older versions have almost identical information and are far cheaper through online or library dispensaries.
Students should also strive to set aside a 10% contingency fund for unforeseen expenses or emergencies. Throughout the course of obtaining a degree, everything from health emergencies to automotive/housing emergencies may arise. Academic tracks are very difficult to return to. To avoid having to drop courses, programs or degrees entirely, expect the best but prepare for the worst.
Though the American dream is alive and well, many families face the harsh reality that it is no longer a realistic goal to fully pay for their children’s college education. Though many political and governmental motions are working towards favoring the plight of young adults, there is still social stigma around the ability to afford a college education. Along with all other status symbols and tangible assets, the value of a college degree is only growing. At the same time, families of students and students alike strive to maintain the outward appearance of being able to pay for college with ease. Paying out of pocket for college is near to impossible depending on the program and the type of degree. Loans are often a slippery slope and unable to be paid off via the hypothetical profitable career once a degree is handed out. However, many remain unwilling to turn to federal aid or scholarship opportunities. The family income brackets analyzed during student federal aid decisions leave many in the cold. This is because those families and individuals living within a modest income brackets but not at or below the poverty level will not be entitled to college funding.
Finding alternate ways to defray expenses often entails abandoning the notion or room and board, new textbooks, supplies, academic programs and more. Discard any notion of shame in receiving hand-me-down academic supplies. The concept that students will not be able to realize their full potential without paying full price is fueled by the industry itself. Self-motivation, thriftiness, curiosity and perseverance are what make a college graduate. By stepping around financial landmines, students have more time to focus on the enjoyment of their curriculum and the freedom from stress needed to fully take it in.
Locating scholarship opportunities, loans and jobs while attending school may all be roads fraught with difficulty. Therefore, consider an internship or assistanceship that puts you in the right place at the right time. Working in a partnership of sorts with the college itself is often the best in for long-term success. Get on the ground floor of a program under development and keep an ear to the ground for university niches that may fall in line with your personal goals. For example, writing minors may often apply for assistanceships sponsored by the college to tutor writing/English to ESL students or go abroad and teach as a means of funding their own education and gaining skills and experience while studying.
Many young students wish college to their maiden voyage into independence. The reality is that students need a lot of help to achieve their goals. A supportive network of family, friends and colleagues is important as students move towards obtaining their degree. It is also a practical matter from a financial standpoint as it is unrealistic for students to enter college and somehow be able singlehandedly chart their own cource. Cutting corners on expenses often involves compromises where independence and status are concerned. For example, living at home and commuting to one’s college is increasingly a practical decision as opposed to attempting to pay to live on or near one’s campus. Public transit or carpool commute options are often necessary. Rooming with others to defray costs and limiting consumption of expensive campus foods or nearby take out can relieve a good deal of financial strain. The ability to cook and prepare economical meals that nonetheless provide the fuel needed to study and maintain personal wellness is essential.
A less obvious and ever-present detractor from academic importance is the subtle pull of having fun. Enjoying oneself and seeing new things is an essential part of the college experience. However, staying on task is one of the most important ways a student can save money, stress and any other unforeseen grief. The ‘college lifestyle’ is also often thought to be a time of self-exploration, parties and budgeting time for ‘work and play.’ However, be wise about time spent on kicking back, partying or other destructive activities associated with the ‘college scene.’ They are not only counterproductive but budget denting. They also undeniably detract from student performance. College is a time for students to grow into careers, grow into better adults and grow as people. Therefore, maintaining a healthy balance when confronted with all factors that go towards a brighter future is pivotal. It is also what it truly means to go from being a ‘student’ to being in a position of command. Take pleasure in the college experience, and even greater pleasure from knowledgably negotiating it.
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