Financing your education can prove to be more stressful than any school assignment you’ll receive in your undergraduate career. While most students want to leave school debt free, in today’s economy it’s becoming even tougher to do so. But don’t worry! There are ways to reduce the financial stress and make going to college an investment in your future. Take a look at some of your options and discuss them with family and/or your school of choice to decide what’s best for you.
Student Loans- One of your first steps in the admissions process is to fill out a free application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). Your school’s financial aid department will have a hardcopy form you can fill out or you can visit www.fasfa.ed.gov and complete an electronic application. By filling out the FASFA you will find out if you are eligible for any subsidized or unsubsidized loans, a Federal Pell Grant or other aid from your state. Based on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), you may be responsible for most, some or very little of the costs associated with attending your college or university of choice. Be sure to understand your financial aid package before signing and accepting any loans. Once you have approved your package, you will have to repay any money borrowed beginning six months after graduation. Make sure you understand the terms before committing and get answers to any questions you have before signing the paperwork.
Scholarships and Grants- Most students begin and end their financial assistance plan with the FASFA. Don’t make that mistake! Take some extra time and do your research on scholarships and grants that may be available to you. Contrary to what most students think, you don’t have to be a straight A student to be eligible for local scholarships and grants. Many scholarship opportunities are based on volunteerism, community service or financial need. You may have to submit an essay to be considered, but it could be the difference between taking out an extra loan or not having any out of pocket expenses at all.
Government Loans- If you’re still in need of financial assistance, investigate government loans. Stafford loans and GI Bills are examples of government assistance. Typically, these loans have a much lower interest rate causing any repayment terms to be a little more manageable when it comes time to start paying back the funds. Similar to most other loans you may receive, repayment will begin six months after graduation.
Before taking out any loans, be sure to ask your parents and/or guardians whether any type of savings accounts, such as a 529 Plan, has been established for your education. This may help save you some money and keep your loan amount at a minimum. Also, keep in mind that if at any time you decide to stop going to school, you will be responsible to pay for any loans or government assistance you receive during the time of your enrollment. It’s important not to take out more money than you need. Some students love to see a large refund check during the semester, but it may come back to haunt you later.