How much do you plan on paying for college? Most people say they don’t want to go into debt paying for college tuition, but with the cost of college skyrocketing every academic year, how can you afford it without taking out private loans? In this article, I will address the best strategies to paying for a United States college without going into extreme debt. We’ll talk about the strategies and creative ways to get the colleges to pay you to attend.
We’ve written so many articles around this topic because our organization firmly believes you should know your financial options surrounding college funding. We’ve been doing this for over 30 years and we have seen colleges and universities around the country get more and more wealthy while piling on students with debt that will take a lifetime to repay. Although we are seeing more federal government intervention into student loan debt with repayment options, we don’t believe this will last and know it is best to take matters into your hands and be the captain of your own ship! Let’s eliminate the idea of private student loans, federal student loans, and a college savings plan being the only way to pay for these high college costs. We have good news, here are the 3 best strategies to pay for college and get a college degree.
1) Know your options early on in the process
Although federal student aid and colleges change their funding opportunities and financial need criteria on an annual basis, you can still educate yourself and get a good financial strategy in place before your senior year. Understanding your options, planning how many children will be in college at the same time, and knowing how to protect your assets from being scrutinized by colleges will work in your favor.
The best way to educate yourself and your family is to go to the official websites and see what your long-term options are. Something I see many families deal with is trying to figure out a strategy last minute. That is a sure way to miss out on great opportunities that you otherwise would have qualified for. I realize it’s not glamorous and it can be rather tedious but it could save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run. If digging for opportunities is not your strength, get help from a respected organization that can help guide you through this process. Here at Beasley College Prep, we have helped thousands of families figure out the best possible strategy. Remember, this has to be a customized process. Don’t buy an off-the-shelf course because there are bound to be situations you miss. Make sure you talk to someone who has references so you know you are getting the best advice. Also, RUN away from a financial advisor who poses as a college consultant but they are trying to sell you financial services or have you refinance your house! Review this article if you have met with a planner who is trying to sell you financial services.
A good strategy, regardless of your financial situation, is important but what might be even more important is instilling in your students that they need to be desirable candidates for colleges. Schools are willing to give free money to high-performing students. It’s their job to have the best of the best on their campus. Make sure that your student keeps up with their GPA and class rank all 4 years and not just their junior and senior year. I see many students come to us after they goofed off their freshman or sophomore year and it truly hurts their opportunities come senior year. Sheltering assets on the FAFSA or looking at long-term financial strategies with a planner won’t help you if your student is not paying attention to their studies and coursework. It must be a two-fold system.
2) Bundle up opportunities
Financial strategies are never a one-size-fits-all and it’s a good idea to talk to a professional especially when it comes to college funding. There are several ways to make it work for you and bundling multiple opportunities is one of the best ways to reduce your financial exposure. Bundling institutional scholarships, private scholarships, a pell grant, state grants, savings plans, federal loans, and also money from a work-study program or employee benefits will help optimize your funding options.
We’ve had students in the past get an academic scholarship that covered tuition and fees and then the student went on to become resident advisor (work-study jobs) and got their room and board covered. This is a fantastic way to find ways to reduce your out-of-pocket expense for school. This is why we say to start early with your strategy so you can figure out what is the best way to structure the perfect package for you.
Another option would be if you were both a high-performing athlete and a strong student. This is one of our biggest tips for the athletes in our program. Often, we make sure they are getting both an athletic scholarship AND an academic-based scholarship. First off, you are much more desirable to a school if you have both going for you. Secondly, it gives you a backup plan if the athletic route doesn’t work out for you. We have seen students have coaching conflicts, athletic injuries, and a few other issues that come with being a collegiate athlete. Our advice is to bundle to avoid losing any of your financial opportunities.
In our last example of bundling opportunities, students who work through school might look into companies that offer tuition reimbursement as an employee benefit. Companies like Amazon, BP, Bank of America, and Chipotle are just some of the companies that offer HUGE tuition reimbursement packages. Not only are you getting paid to complete the work, but you also are getting the savings of not having to pay for that college education. Another huge benefit is the ability to work your way up in the company and into a management position upon graduation. This is a massive leg up when it comes to setting yourself up for your future career.
All of these options can work in conjunction with each other. Throw in a few private scholarships or work-study options and you can effectively get your entire way paid for you. Mix and match to make them all work for you! These are some of the most effective ways in paying for college students.
3) Choose a school that makes financial sense
This one we get the most push back from especially among high school students themselves. I know that it might sound glamorous to go to a super-elite college. I do understand the allure of it all. What we want to tell you is that will wear off FAST once that first student loan payment needs to be repaid. The fancy schools (primarily private colleges) certainly come with fancy price tags, not necessarily fancy job opportunities. Unless a school is willing to give you something in return for going to their school, consider more affordable alternatives.
If you are a student that has come from privilege and doesn’t need to worry about paying for school, a top elite college might be for you. But for the 99% of students who must consider the school’s price, you might want to think twice. There are hundreds, if not thousands of public colleges that would give you some financial benefit to go to their school if you are qualified enough to get into one of the elite colleges. Fun Fact: Many Ivy League colleges offer a wonderful financial aid package for students with a low to middle income level. Please contact us if you are interested in this information. Also, if you are interested in a list of scholarships we have one available on our site. You can pick up your copy here!
The first step is to get a list of 10-20 colleges that you are interested in attending. Break them off into 3 different categories: Reach schools (schools that are highly competitive but you might be able to make the cut- think Ivy league and top-tier), standard schools (schools that are competitive but you are mainly within the admissions requirements), and safe schools (these are schools that you know you exceed the minimum admission requirement and will likely get money to go there).
After you have your list, window shop each school’s website and look at what their cost of attendance would be. From there, look at any merit-based scholarships the school offers and what the minimum requirements are for each of the scholarships. Having it written down will give you a much better understanding of what it will cost you to attend each school. From there, you can make your ultimate decision on where you want to apply and what you are going to be spending at the different schools you are considering. From our experience, most students and families make better financial decisions when they have everything charted and in front of them.
We say this a lot in our articles but the 2 most important factors to avoid student debt are starting early and creating a proper strategy. These two variables will not only ensure your family’s financial health when it comes to college but they are smart ways to set your student up for success in their collegiate career while reducing financial pressure. Your student will have had the time to research their potential school and feel more comfortable spending the next 4 years being there. Good new is paying for college doesn’t have to be stressful or requires you to pay high tuition costs. We are more than happy to help you through the process.