“O, that this too too solid debt would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!”
Okay, maybe Hamlet didn’t say “debt,” but we can be struck by a Shakespearean despair when we think about paying for college.
For me, the biggest obstacle was trying to find ways to afford college. I decided I could not go to my dream college or top choices because, due to advice of those wiser than I, choosing the most affordable option was the best option because I could completely bypass student loans.
Whether or not you make the same choice, here are tips for paying for college:
1. Start local.
After several unsuccessful scholarship applications to national competitions, I was downhearted about how I could ever
get any scholarships. Then I began to take others’ advice and online advice more seriously- apply locally!
For three years, I received a local scholarship for $1,000 per academic year. Why? There weren’t enough applicants for it. The first year of the scholarship the applicants were actually equal to the number of scholarships available, so there was no competition and we didn’t even have to do the personal interviews!
If you are already attending college, it also helps to apply for scholarships within your own school system. For example, the University of Hawai’i system has a Common Scholarship Application that puts your information towards all scholarships you are eligible for. This helped land me a $1,000 scholarship my second academic year.
If you’re picking a college out, be sure to look at your state options first because residents get cheaper tuition than out-of-state students. Why pay two or three times more if you can get the same education nearby? You may want the experience of getting out of your state, but weigh the choices: potential debt upon graduation or graduating with less debt and then being able to roam the country.
2. Be proactive!
Two years ago, I saw flyers at my community college about a new scholarship in in honor of someone who had passed away. The deadline was very close but I worked on my application and sent it in. I smugly believed I was probably one of the only “proactive” students applying on such short notice, but I was still surprised when I was one of the six recipients chosen. Moreover, I was even more surprised when I learned I was chosen out of more than 100 applicants!
3. Don’t procrastinate.
To pay for school, you have to turn over every rock, so to speak. There are times I probably could have done better finding funds if I would have been proactive.
For the upcoming year I applied for scholarships, but I didn’t apply for a full-tuition scholarship recently because I convinced myself I didn’t deserve it/meet the qualifications and I was also too lazy to apply. Now I really regret it - I should have at least tried for it but, honestly, it was partly a matter of procrastination and putting all my eggs in another basket.
If you want your education, you have to fight for it and start fighting as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the last minute to frantically search for ways of paying for college.
4. Know what you’re willing to pay.
Look at numbers realistically. If you are choosing to go into debt, how much debt are you willing to incur? Are you going into a field that will allow you to pay off the debt? Loans will take years to pay off.
Recently a classmate told me that I’m lucky I’m not thousands and thousands of dollars in debt, that my classmate really feels the weight of this debt. If your parents have to take out loans, take that and their situation into consideration too.
Also, look at if your loans subsidized or unsubsidized, as the subsidized loans are preferable.
If you aren’t serious about your course of study or if you don’t want to go into debt, then you have to find a lot of scholarships and grants, work your way through college, or go to the cheapest option you have.
Schools will entice you to attend with numbers and scholarship offers. But look at the whole cost: what each school charges for room and board, and how much tuition you have to pay after subtracting your school scholarship(s). It is amazing to compare schools by making a chart and breaking down costs to see which school really is affordable and which ones aren’t.
And if it’s an out-of-state school, don’t forget to look at airplane tickets, gas mileage, etc. if you plan on going home - assuming you can even afford to go home.
5. Get a job.
Saving money is one way to pay your tuition, especially if you live at home. Or at the least it’s a way to pay your expenses. If you are going to eat cafeteria food rather than brown bagging your lunch, then a job could pay for your meals out, rather than accepting a loan to cover both room and board. Why accept loans and incur interest, when you can pay now?
Paying for college is rarely easy or fun, but there are many options and choices available if you are willing to look at your wants and needs as well as work hard to save money or find scholarships.
Or as a modern Hamlet might say, “To pay, or not to pay: that is the question.”