In today’s competitive job market, having a college degree — especially from a snazzy private university — listed on your resume can help elevate you above other potential candidates. But we’ve all heard the horror stories about student loan debt that can follow you for years or even decades. It’s enough to make even the most ambitious student say, “Thanks, I’ll try my luck at waitressing.”
But don’t let the possibility of high tuition cost and post-graduation debt keep you from realizing your dreams. Even with today’s inflated tuition rates, you have plenty of options when it comes to paying for college, from college savings accounts to grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.
College Tuition: The Real Deal
Depending on your chosen school and field of study, you can expect to pay anywhere between $9,970 and $34,740 every year, collegedata.com reports. And that’s just for tuition. Room and board can double your out-of-pocket costs.
Your best option is in the realm of scholarships, since these are monetary awards that you don’t have to pay back. Scholarships are sometimes awarded on the basis of academic achievement and high standardized test scores. These may be handed out by a particular college or university. Other scholarships are tailored to individuals with particular interests, or racial or socioeconomic backgrounds, and are funded by private organizations and institutions.
If you’re interested in pursuing a merit-based scholarship, make sure your GPA and test scores are higher than the average numbers of the incoming class. Check out your chosen college’s financial aid website to see what the exact parameters are for an academic scholarship.
No matter if you choose to apply for a scholarship or not, when you’ve done the math and noticed gaping holes in your education capital, it’s time to look for funding resources. Filling out your FAFSA should go hand-in-hand with the college application process. A FAFSA, short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is your ticket to federal educational monies.
The information you enter into your FAFSA will determine your eligibility for a variety of funding sources, including federal loans and grants. If you are still financially dependent on your parents, you may be required to include their income information on your FAFSA as well as your own.
Thinking Outside the Box
Applying for financial aid and scholarships is by no means the only available option when you’re looking for viable ways to pay for college. Keep in mind that attending college in your state of residence will be much lower in cost than if you choose an out of state learning facility. Even if your childhood dream was to study at Stanford but you reside in the Midwest and a number of surrounding colleges have a significantly lower tuition rate, try to remain open to those options.
If your first school choice comes with a price tag that’s unattainable, don’t let that dampen your spirits. Look at it as an opportunity rather than a setback.
Furthermore, there are a number of major corporations that help employees foot their college bill, including Starbucks, Amazon, and Lowe’s. Note that each company has individual limitations and requirements, so make sure to read the fine print. Lowe’s, for instance, solely pays for trade programs and apprenticeships while Starbucks funds online programs.
Finding employment that comes with the perk of tuition assistance as well as a steady paycheck during your college years is a solid choice, no matter the details.
Consider the Benefits of Trade School
Perhaps the idea of sitting in a classroom for four years doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe you’re more of a hands-on individual, or you want to avoid taking general education classes.You may be the perfect candidate for trade or vocational school.
There are myriad of benefits to choosing a trade-based education rather than enrolling in a traditional college. You can get a jumpstart on your career since the majority of vocational schools offer 2-year programs.
Cosmetology, nursing, and truck driving are just some of the programs offered at trade schools, and tuition averages less than $18,000 for the entire program. That’s a significant difference compared to even an in-state public university.
What’s more, trade schools are highly technical and emphasize the actual skills you will utilize in the workplace. In-demand technical skills include data analytics, marketing, and project management, and including those skills on your resume or CV, along with your hobbies and interests, will help you stand out to prospective employers.
Avoid Taking Out Loans if Possible
Student loans should be a last resort. If you must offset your grants and scholarships with loans in order to fund your education, however, make sure to consider your future tax obligation. Most types of loans are considered a source of taxable income that you must report on your tax return. The good news is that you may be able to claim some of your educational expenses as tax deductions, such as student loan interest. Keep in mind that, while the interest paid on student loans is tax deductible, there are limits.
For instance, when filing taxes as a single individual, you can’t deduct student loan interest if your gross income is more than $80,000 annually. And the total allowable amount of interest that can be deducted is capped at $2,500. Even if you incur more interest while paying off your student loans, that surplus amount cannot be claimed as a tax deduction.
And, of course, student loans must be repaid after you graduate. That reality should remain at the forefront of your mind as you determine the amount you need to borrow to fund your education. The general rule of thumb is to keep your amount borrowed below half of your estimated future annual salary so that making student loan payments won’t be a hardship.
For the majority of young people, the price tag associated with college can seem daunting, but there are a few tricks to offsetting those costs. If you set realistic educational goals, search for scholarships as diligently as you search for the right college, and remain adaptable, you may find that a quality education isn’t out of your financial reach.
By Devin Morrissey: Devin is a jack of all trades from Daly City, but now roams the West Coast. He returns home to coach rugby and fix his friends' cars, but luckily he can write from anywhere.