It seems like the price of a four-year college degree has outpaced the average income, at least in the United States. Many graduates are moving on to successful careers, but the loans they used to get their education are overshadowing that success with a mountain of debt. Others don’t even get that success, making the loan payments that much worse by comparison.
The first thing you should do is figure out whether the career you want really demands a four-year degree. College degrees earn more money on average, but your life won’t always be average and a lot of that extra profit will go to your student loans. Once you’re sure you want a college degree, consider the ways you can pay for college.
Fill out the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the first step to getting any number of grants, scholarships, and low-interest federal loans. Governments and organizations award these loans to students in low-income families, and because the form is long and complicated many students aren’t filling them out and so they don’t get the financial aid they deserve. Even if you don’t think you will qualify for free government student aid, it’s still worthwhile to fill out the FAFSA.
Shop for a Private Loan
Image via Flickr by Edward Dalmulder
Not every federal loan comes with a rock-bottom interest rate, especially if your family makes too much money to qualify for student aid. In cases like these, finding a decent private loan with a low interest rate and the right term length could be your best option. And make sure you look at every lender to find the best terms: different lenders offer different perks and discounts depending on where you live and make it easier or harder to drop a cosigner, so you can better build your credit rating.
Cash on the Barrelhead
Image via Flickr by 401(K) 2012
It used to be very common for college students to pay for each semester by working at the same time, but then college used to be less expensive than it is today. Still, there’s nothing stopping you from going straight from high school to the workforce and saving up money in a tax-free 529 plan to go to college in the future. Depending on your profession you could take part-time night classes or get a four-year degree in your late 20s or early 30s. You won’t be a traditional student, but why care about tradition?
Find a Smaller University
One of the all-time best ways to pay for tuition is to pay less in the first place. Local universities and community colleges will often have the same quality of education as the major state institutions and the ivy league schools but only charge a fraction of the cost. You will miss out on a few things like having a famous name on your resume and the networking opportunities you get from going to school with the sons and daughters of CEOs, but if all you need is education you can get it from a local institution.
College tuition is more expensive these days, but you can still pay for it if you’re careful about looking for the right opportunities and keep your expenses low.