Q: Both my parents work full-time and encouraged me to choose a college based on quality instead of price. I found a private school that I love but tuition is $16,000 per semester, even with my academic scholarship. Will my parents be able to afford that? Who should be taking out loans, them or me?
Your parents encouraged you to choose a worthy investment in your education, so chances are they will support your school choice. But paying for tuition is something you need to discuss since it will permanently affect your finances.
“Many parents, even those with high incomes, want the student to bear some of the financial burden of paying for their own education so that the student feels not only emotionally, but financially invested in their education,” says Angela Monnat, director of financial aid at St. John Fisher College (www.sjfc.edu
Experts recommend that students take out the first loans through federal student loan programs (FAFSA) before their parents borrow through a Federal PLUS loan program. Much of the aid you receive will be based on your financial need, or the difference between what you and your parents can afford to pay each semester and the total cost, not counting aid from merit scholarships. These provide set dollar amounts the student is allowed to pay each semester and how much family contribution is required.
Q: Last summer I worked part time and was able to save money for my textbooks. My parents offered to pay for them ($550), but I think I should pay for them myself. Who’s right?
You are. Since you have proven that you want the responsibility of contributing to the cost of necessities like textbooks, it is fair that you should pay for them, especially if you can afford it yourself. Of course, it’s up to you and your parents to negotiate these costs. Maybe they would prefer you save the money you earned for everyday expenses instead of emptying your checking account.
In the 2009-10 school year, the total average cost of textbooks and school supplies were $1,122 among four-year public colleges. One way to save on these materials is to obtain a list of books from your professors in advance and shop for used copies online. Many campus bookstores also buy back textbooks at the end of the semester, so you can exchange them for cash. If not, try making up some of the cost by selling your books, art supplies or chemistry goggles to other students taking the same classes.
Q: I’m a sophomore and decided to move out of the dorms into my own apartment. Should my parents co-sign the lease? I can afford most of the monthly rent but would like some assurance that I can make the payments.
Living off campus is a big step toward independence. While you may enjoy the freedom of having your own space away from the dorms, it’s important to consider the additional costs that come with it.
“If the student has the choice of living on or off campus, and parents are paying for housing, the student has an obligation to consult with the parents about the choice and the relative costs and benefits of living on or off campus,” says Terry Cowdrey, assistant vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence University.
Internet, cable, food, utilities—these expenses may be split between you and your parents. However, since it was your decision to move off campus, it may be your responsibility to pay for rent. Make sure your class schedule allows enough time for you to work part-time without interfering with your studies.
But having your parents co-sign the lease is beneficial if you need help paying the rent or if you don’t have established credit. Just make sure you both agree to the terms!
Q: I’m a freshman at a state university and I qualify for work-study. This means I’ll be able to pay for tuition and living expenses with the money I earn from my part time job at school, right?
Not exactly, and here’s why. Federal work-study is something you must qualify for based on need, and it provides an opportunity for you to earn money toward your tuition by working on campus. Most work-study jobs are limited to 20 hours a week or less.
“The total amount a student is allowed to earn is typically not anywhere near the cost of tuition even at relatively low cost public colleges. Instead, many students use work-study employment to earn money for books and personal expenses,” says Cowdrey.
Work-study jobs and other campus employment or internships are great ways to beef up your resume and gain work experience, while forcing you to practice time management. Just be sure to pace yourself so you don’t take on more things than you can handle. As a student, focusing on your studies should be your main priority. I’m sure your parents will agree.