It’s no secret that college is expensive. It can be downright prohibitive for some people. But did you know that there are ways to pay for college even if you don’t have the money?
A History of Tuition Costs
Tuition costs have changed over time. In the United States, the cost of attending college is always on the rise. In fact, between 1985 and 2015, the average cost of tuition and fees at a public four-year institution increased by 213%. For already expensive private four-year institutions, the increase was 129% over the same period of time.
With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that many people are struggling to come up with the money to pay for college. So whether you’re a high school student trying to figure out your future or a parent who wants to give your child the best education possible, here are five different ways to pay for college without breaking – or robbing – a bank.
The 529 College Savings Plan
One way to pay for college is to start saving early with a 529 college savings plan. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings account that can cover qualified expenses at eligible colleges and universities. Family members or friends typically make contributions to a 529 plan, and the money in the account grows tax-free. As long as it’s used for qualified educational expenses, it’s not subject to federal or, in many states, state income tax.
“A tip that I would give parents that are wanting to plan for sending their child to college is to put as much money as you can into a 529 plan, invest it, and do it as early as possible,” says Nathan Mueller, financial planner and founder of BlackBird Finance.
Scholarships and Grants
Another way to pay for college is to apply for scholarships and grants. Scholarships are awards of financial aid that do not have to be repaid, while grants are typically need-based awards that also do not have to be repaid.
In 2019-2020, prospective college students received an average of $7,626 in grants and scholarships, covering about 25% of their tuition and fees. There are a variety of scholarships and grants available, so it’s essential to do your research and find the ones you qualify for.
One useful free tool for finding scholarships, grants, and financial aid is College Aid Pro.
“If your child is attending college this year, complete a FAFSA form to see if they qualify for need-based grants and loans,” says Danielle Miura, a Certified Financial Planner and owner of Spark Financials. “There are plenty of online resources to apply for need-based and merit-based scholarships,” Miura says.
Participating in a work-study program is another great way to fund students’ studies. Work-study programs are federally funded and provide part-time jobs for eligible students. The money earned through these programs can help cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and other expenses.
To participate in a work-study program, you must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once your college awards you financial aid, you will then be able to apply for work-study positions.
Many colleges and universities offer payment plans that allow students to spread the cost of tuition and fees over the semester or academic year. These plans typically require a small down payment and then monthly payments for the remainder of the balance. In addition, interest is usually charged on the unpaid balance, so it’s essential to be aware of this before signing up for a payment plan.
Attend Community College First
One way to make college more affordable is to attend community college for the first two years and then transfer to a four-year institution. Community colleges typically have lower tuition rates than four-year colleges and universities, which can be a great way to save money.
Pay attention to which programs and credits at a chosen community college will easily transfer to four-year institutions. Community college can save you time and money by allowing you to complete your degree in a shorter period of time.
“If you’re adamant about your child attending a four-year university/college, consider sending them to a local community college for their freshman and sophomore years,” says Jay Rishel, a Certified Financial Planner with Overman Capital Management. “Students can expect to save upwards of 40% of their expected college costs,” Rishel says.
Utilize All of Your Resources
There are various ways to pay for college, so don’t let the cost deter you from getting the education you want and deserve. If you’re willing to do your research and put in the work, you can find a way to finance your education without breaking the bank.
If you need a helping hand, consider hiring a financial advisor specializing in college funding. While many financial advisors are knowledgeable on college planning topics, you may want to choose a financial advisor who has earned their Certified College Financial Consultant (CCFC) designation, especially if you have multiple children heading to college in the next several years.
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