Money concerns in college are common and can cause stress and distractions. A solution is to analyze your financial goals and responsibilities and plan ahead for ways to pay for expenses.
"The cost of college should never discourage anyone from going after a valuable degree."
—Arne Duncan, former United States Secretary of Education
College students often have money concerns, such as affording college while still paying other bills. These concerns can affect their academic success. For instance, money problems are stressful and can prevent students from concentrating on their studies. Or, if students have a lot of personal expenses, they may try to work more hours to cover costs of living, leaving them with less time to study. Worse yet, some money problems, such as extreme debt, may cause students to drop out of college entirely.
Analyzing your financial responsibilities and planning ways to pay for expenses can help reduce stress.
College students are diverse and may be in different stages of their lives. For example, some students may have just graduated from high school, while other may be older and have families. While these differences will have an impact on financial responsibilities, there are certain financial obligations most college students have to pay for.
Usually, when people hear the words college costs, they think of tuition and room and board. Unfortunately, those costs are only part of the picture. The real cost of college includes a much wider list of expenses, such as the ones below:
What types of expenses do you think you might face as a college student? The following video will help you review the types of college expenses and examine particular costs that are common for both four-year and two-year institutions.
Consider this passage from “The Hidden Costs in the Soaring Price of Higher Education,” by Spencer Rogers:
"It is no secret that four-year college tuition rates have skyrocketed over the past few decades, almost tripling since 1980. In the past six years alone tuition at public universities has risen over 21 percent, and there is no end in sight. Climbing tuition rates are a huge problem and limit social mobility, thereby maintaining our socio-economic imbalance – but at least people know about it, they are trying to do something about it. It is one thing to face an uphill battle combating costs that are alive and well in the public conscious, what about the one that are not?
Remember that six year, 21 percent increase in college tuition? What if I told you prices for room and board have risen the same amount, in the same period? According to College Board the cost of room and board at public universities has risen about 20 percent since 2009. And private universities are almost as bad, having increased their room and board prices by about 17 percent of the same time – and many private institutions require their students to live on campus.
According to Richard Vetter, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, “This is the untold story… we focus on tuition, but we need to look at other costs too.”
Paying for college is a big challenge, but the following financial resources can help:
Setting financial goals for yourself is one of the best ways to track and manage your expenses.
The following strategies can help:
These are only some steps you can take for creating college financial goals, but it is important to find the right ones for you.
When it comes to covering all the costs of college, depending on how much money you have saved beforehand, you will probably want to investigate one or more of the following options:
Applying for financial aid requires planning and organization. Below are steps you can take to increase your chances of getting help paying for college.
This free application asks students questions about their background, personal finances, and college, and provides information about what loans, work study, and other types of aid they might be eligible for. You may be unaware of factors that affect how much financial assistance you are eligible for, such as changes to your parents’ income or your job status, or having a sibling start college. This is why it is important to fill out a new FAFSA application annually.
Although it can be a chore to track down exact amounts (and it is so much easier to estimate things like your parents’ or your income), failure to provide accurate numbers can mean that you may not qualify for all the financial assistance you’re actually eligible for. Before you fill out the FAFSA form, be sure you have collected and have handy all the important information you’ll need. This includes your (and your parents’) tax forms, social security number, and income statements. The U.S. Department of Education’s Site for Federal Student Aid has more tips on how to effectively fill out your application.
If you’re still in high school or if you’ve recently graduated, ask your guidance counselor about grants and scholarships you could apply for. Your college will also be a good resource, since most institutions have their own scholarships and awards that are available to their students.
Check to see if your employer, place of worship, clubs, or volunteer organizations have any grant or scholarship opportunities. Although these sources may not offer as much as federal loans or college scholarships, they may help you cover the costs of books and/or supplies.
Whether you’re filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) or applying for scholarships, most organizations will have deadlines which you must meet–they are not flexible dates. These deadlines help ensure that if you are eligible, you will receive your financial assistance in time for the upcoming school year. If other people are helping you with your application—for example, teachers writing letters of recommendation for you—be sure to inform them of the deadlines and give them plenty of notice. The more time you give those helping you, the more time they’ll have to write good recommendations.
Many scholarship applications will have an essay component. You can assume that the other students applying for a particular scholarship also meet the basic requirements (a certain GPA or above, certain demographic criteria, etc.), so often it isn’t enough to just have good grades or be “eligible” for a scholarship: the essay can be what really sets you apart. When you write application essays, make sure you have the time to write multiple drafts. You should also have family, friends, or teachers provide feedback as you go through revisions.
As the following video shows, regardless of your background, which college you’re attending, or your time commitment, there are numerous financial aid opportunities for you to consider:
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