One of the main concerns expressed by parents and students alike in our annual College Hopes & Worries survey is the ability to pay for a college education. It's no secret that college is expensive, but with a little forethought, you can make that price tag something more within your reach. Even still, sometimes it takes a bit of creative thinking in order to make the cost of college feasible. Here are three smart ways to help fund your college education.
Focus on Finding a Financial Fit
First and foremost, when searching for your best-fit college, you must also keep in mind that a school is only best for you if it meets your financial needs. Finding a financial fit means looking for a school that offers a high return on your tuition investment. Look for schools that strive to help students pay for college with grants and scholarships rather than just student loans.
Additionally, while it's true that you should never judge a book by its cover, it is more than okay to judge a school by its career services. That's because, according to the aforementioned College Hopes & Worries survey, career services actually rank higher in importance among both parents and students than a school's overall fit, affordability or academic reputation. So when you visit a college, take a tour of the career center and inquire about what services are offered. Keep in mind that those offered to you after graduation can be just as important as those offered to currently attending students. For help pinpointing what schools excel in these areas, check out our Best Value College rankings lists.
Customize Your College Timeline
When you think of a traditional college timeline, you probably picture spending four years at a single school to earn your degree. From a financial perspective, that might not be the best route to take! Consider this: Students who first begin at a community college, or even a state school, and choose to later transfer to a private school can still earn the same degree as those students who spend their entire education at that private school. Transfer students do not receive any special notation on their diploma stating that some classes were taken elsewhere, but their overall financial costs may show some positive differences.
Similarly, managing to finish your degree in fewer than four years can help you keep costs down. If you can handle the increased workload, consider taking additional courses in a semester or opting for summer classes. Overall, don't restrict yourself to a four-year timeline just because that's what others have traditionally done.
Get a Head Start
My final tip might require a bit more advanced planning, but it can be one of the most fruitful financial practices: earn college credit while in high school. There are several options commonly available to students in your position, including one you're probably already familiar with: AP Exams. Snagging enough high scores on the APs can sometimes save students a whole year of tuition dollars. That's a serious chunk of change!
Other less common but still viable options include taking CLEP exams and signing up for dual-enrollment courses, which allow you to head off to a college campus for certain introductory courses while still completing your regular high school coursework. For all of these options, keep in mind that the credits colleges accept will vary depending on the school's policy, so do your research to ensure you are spending your time wisely.
Folks, I want to ensure you overall that while college may seem like a major financial burden, it is almost always worth it. And with a little financial aid finessing, it is also almost always doable. For more on funding your education, check out our books Paying for College and 8 Steps to Paying Less for College. Plus, head over to our YouTube channel, where we post content regularly to help you achieve your college goals.
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