When it comes to choosing a college, the most important task is selecting the right school for your needs.
But a close second is figuring out paying for college, because higher education isn’t cheap and is only gaining in costs with each passing year. With college more competitive than ever as prospective students seek the education that will help them get ahead in life, it’s no wonder that figuring out how to afford college is such a critical task.
Luckily, critical doesn’t have to mean overwhelming, because there are several great ways to pay for college. What’s more, paying for college doesn’t have to mean taking out loans and getting saddled with debt. You certainly can take out loans, but that’s only one of the multitude of options available to you when paying for college.
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Here’s our best tips for how to pay for college:
1. Fill Out Your FAFSA
By far, the most important step to figuring out ways to pay for college is applying for financial aid from the government. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) helps the government determine how much your family can reasonably afford to pay for college, which allows it to then decide your eligibility for scholarships, grants, loans and other programs.
Given that it’s free to fill out, you’re absolutely leaving money on the table if you don’t take this simple step. You might not qualify for a grant, but you could qualify for other options, such as work-study programs. Or maybe you don’t make as much as other students, enabling you to receive a few hundred dollars as a grant. Every little bit helps, and you can’t receive these awards unless you apply.
2. Seek Out Scholarships
Scholarships and grants are not the same thing. Both are free money to attend college, but the difference is that grants are based on financial need, while scholarships are based on either merit or on meeting certain criteria. When it comes to paying for college, you’re likely to find that scholarships are worth the effort it takes to seek them out.
If you’re willing to do the work, you can rack up several scholarships that reduce your overall costs for college. Several places on the internet, such as Goodwall Opportunities, offer a one-stop shop for you to apply for scholarships. You’re free to apply to as many types of scholarships as you like, and the worst any of them can say is no.
Your local community can also be a source of scholarships. Community organizations such as American Legion or Rotary are always happy to support local students in higher education, and many offer yearly scholarships to those students they feel deserve their help. If there’s an announced contest, make sure to enter it; otherwise, write to the president of any community organization and ask if they’d be willing to contribute to your education. Even if you only receive a few hundred dollars, the money adds up quick.
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3. Take AP Classes
Here’s one of the more unconventional ways to pay for college, because it involves earning college credit before you step foot on the campus. For this strategy to work, you’ll need to find out what score your college will accept from an AP test for college credit. Most colleges accept 4 or higher, while some are even willing to take 3.
If your university or college accepts your score and gives you college credit, you can knock out some general education classes before you get to campus. Not having to take them on campus means you get to your degree a little faster and a little cheaper…and you might even be able to have a light semester in there if you need to focus on a specific class!
4. Go to Community College
If you’re like most kids, you don’t really know for sure what you want to major in yet. So why not try this way of paying for college: instead of spending two years paying exorbitant prices for general education courses, why not take those classes at a community college and save some cash?
For this strategy of paying for college to work, you need to do some legwork and make sure the college you want will accept your community college credits. As long as you get by this simple hurdle, you can save a few thousands of dollars while still getting a quality education and knocking out early requirements. Once you know what you want to major in, you can move your credits over and start earning your degree.
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5. Get a Job
Getting a job during college qualifies as both one of the old-fashioned and new school ways of paying for college. The traditional way of getting a work-study program means that you work with your college to find a job that pays you by providing financial aid. This is based off the FAFSA, so if you haven’t filled it out, you need to do that ASAP.
With so many new businesses popping up these days, getting a job on your own outside of work-study has become a common tactic. You can even take a gap year and use that year to work somewhere, putting your money aside to help with paying for college until next year. Getting a sizable paycheck and learning how to balance your time can make you a better student as well as a more financially stable one.
6. Look for Loans
Loans do have their purpose when it comes to paying for college, and if you’ve exhausted all financial options besides loans, they can be a great tool.
Remember, you should only take a loan after you’ve accepted all available help from scholarships, grants and other free sources of money, because you’re going to have to pay back your loans at the end of your college career. But if you do need the extra money to help with making college more affordable, low interest rates can make these the right choice.
At Goodwall, we’re here to help make college more affordable by helping students and parents discover new ways to pay for college! When your dream school appears out of reach because you’re unsure about paying for college, contact us for assistance. We’ll help figure out what opportunities are available to offset the costs and make education a reality!
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