A college degree is no longer an added bonus for people entering the job market; it’s become a necessity. Because of this, high school students are expected to jump straight into college after upon graduating in order to become contributors to society. Of course, having a college diploma is not entirely necessary to achieve financial and spiritual success. However, for the rest of us non-Bill Gates and non-Steve Jobs out there, college is the first step to reaching financial independence.
Unfortunately, in many countries, university tuition can be very expensive, thus making it impossible for many people to become admitted into an accredited school. Lucky for us, we don’t need parents with deep pockets to finance our higher education for us. There are 8 things we can do to prepare for our college education.
1. Start a 529 plan
A tax-advantaged 529 account is commonly opened for young children so their savings can accumulate over a long period of time. The sooner you start, the more you’ll have in your account, waiting to be used for college tuition.
Even though this sounds like only young children can truly benefit from the plan, it’s definitely worth opening one up for high school students. Whatever amount you save will ultimately be used to finance your education, and every penny counts. A 529 savings account has tax advantages, so you’ll be able to save more for your higher education.
However, roughly 70% of Americans aren’t aware of the benefits that a 529 plan offers for future college expenses, so they are extremely underutilized. Most parents in the US don’t know of this plan, mainly because paying for a college education always seems far away, no matter how close their children are from graduating high school.
2. Take AP and college-level classes in high school
More students are taking advantage of Advanced Placement (AP) classes which can count as college-level class for a college credit. Taking college courses before enrolling into a university is beneficial in preparing students for the tough college-student life. Not to mention it can help them save more than a semester’s worth in tuition.
However, some high schools may not teach college-level classes and taking classes at a local college may not be possible. Nowadays, you can take online courses to study AP subjects after school or during summer break. Plan your education carefully and take the required steps to complete as many college courses as possible before your freshman year. This can help you save a tremendous amount of money.
3. Start off at a community college
Society says that community college is a college for failed students and older people who are looking to turn their life around. However, does it matter what society says, and does it matter who your peers are?
Community colleges have two-year programs where the students are granted a diploma at the end. The good thing about community colleges is that you basically learn the same general education you get from state colleges, without having to spend large amounts of money for tuition. In general, a semester’s worth of studying at a community college in the US will cost you less than $3,000. Complete your two-degree program there, save up any money you can, and transfer to a state college after graduation. That way you’ll only have to pay for one- to two-year’s costs in tuition.
4. Apply for grants
States, the federal government and even some colleges hand out grants to deserving students with no strings attached. You won’t need to pay back the grant money you receive, and the sum depends on your financial needs based on your reported income when applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
If you’re chosen as a recipient for a grant, it should be mentioned in the financial aid award letter published and sent by your school, along with your letter of acceptance. In 2016, undergraduates at public schools received $5,000 on average in grant aid.
In general, colleges will consider your parents’ income and determine how much your family can afford to pay your tuition. Colleges will partially cover the gap.
5. Work-study jobs
Work-study jobs are part-time jobs on or near campus grounds for eligible students. Eligibility is determined by their personal finances and available funds of the school. In the US, you will have to fill out a FAFSA to apply.
Undergrads can earn hourly salaries but your pay cannot surpass a set amount per year. The set amount should be included in the financial aid award letter. In general, these jobs will pay the students once every month.
6. Find the right school
The amount of available funds allocated for financial aid depends on the school. Some universities offer full-tuition scholarships for every admitted student. Meanwhile, “work colleges” give free or reduced tuition to students in exchange for work.
Tuition-free schools are hard to come by. Even some schools that were free for students changed their tuition policies after several years or free education for their students. Still, even expensive institutions can give large discounts to low- to middle-income students.
7. Reduce seat time
Online is mixed courses are now available to students and allow them to learn at their own pace. They are allowed to race through subjects they are adept at, meanwhile taking a slower and more relaxed approach in studying difficult-to-understand courses. Enrolling in colleges with competency-based learning, adult students can take advantage of their real-world experience and ultimately reduce tuition costs.
8. Apply for scholarships
Applying for scholarships is usually done after being admitted into a university, but some scholarships can be rewarded to students even before their freshman year in college. Searching for scholarships should be your main priority since there are so many different sources with varying requirements.
After checking your 529 plan savings, applying for grants, and counting your savings from work, you should browse around the internet for scholarships. Many awards are focused on people from low- to middle-income families, and the main criteria for giving hard cash to students is that you are already admitted into a university. Larger scholarship amounts are usually given to students or future-students that have exhibited extraordinary skills or knowledge, while smaller amounts or reserved for people who are struggling financially. However, if you only quality for economic-aid scholarships, you will find that applying for multiple scholarships is not a problem and you may even be a recipient of more than one scholarship in a semester.