Figure It Out: Can You Afford Your College Choice?
Laura provides advice on determining whether or not you can afford your first college choice.
By Laura Magerkurth
January 20, 2012
With the new year comes new resolutions and a fresh start, and this is no different for high school seniors. Now that you have some idea of where you’ll be a year from now, it’s time to make sure you can afford it.
While nearly everyone fills out the FAFSA and waits to hear back from schools on their financial aid, you can get a leg up by applying for scholarships and most importantly, understanding your family’s financial situation well enough to decide just what is in store for you.
The most common activity students do to make money for college is applying for scholarships. While the ones we hear about most often are the big-bucks national scholarships, local ones are also available. Check with your employer, fire or police department, chamber of commerce, and small businesses to see what’s out there—you may be surprised to find how many student-supporting organizations there are in your area.
If you’re not having any luck hunting on your own, your guidance office probably has information on awards that tend to fly under the radar. Signing up for scholarship search and matching services, like Fastweb, will also give you more options and results.
These kinds of resources also come in handy when looking for private student loans (ones that are provided by banks and not the federal government). Be warned, though: at this point in time, you don’t want to leave school loaded down with debt. That can quickly turn into a recipe for disaster if you’re not earning enough to make your loan payments or if something comes up and you need to put the money you would’ve used for your payment toward something else.
While it’s important for you to contribute to paying for your education, you also need to sit your parents down and get a clear understanding of how much they can pay for school. Just knowing you’re on the same page will take some of the pressure off everyone involved and initiating that talk will let them know that you are a responsible young adult—that’s a great feeling for any parent. And don’t forget to follow their lead.
If Mom and Dad say that they’re fine financially, keep applying for scholarships and aid (after all, the lower the price, the better!), but try not stress about it. Conversely, if they say that money is an issue and they’re not certain they will be able to give as much as they would like, be reassuring and know that you have options.
Here are some points to hit when broaching this often sensitive subject with your parents:
1. What price range would be ideal for us? (Remember, this includes room and board and other expenses, not just tuition!) 2. What individual parts of my education are you willing to pay for? (i.e. tuition and/or room and board) 3. “X” school costs $__ per year. Is this an option? 4. What can I do to help us pay for college?
While funding your education isn’t going to be easy, it doesn’t have to be painful. With some wriggling, you are more than capable of finding ways to avoid breaking the bank.