You are back to school shopping for new laptops and iPhones, picking out extra long twin mattress sheets all while trying to ignore the fact that tuition is due, and you’re broke.
Your anxiety is at a peak because you have no clue how you are going to pay the bill. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017–2018 school year was
- $34,740 at private colleges
- $9,970 for state residents at public colleges
- ‘$25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities
Those numbers don’t include room and board.
The student loan debt in this country has reached an astronomical $1.52 trillion.
I am an 18 year veteran of the higher education world. I believe strongly in the value of a college education. I do not beleive that there is only one way to earn a college degree. Graduating high school and proceeding to take out $60,000 in loans to attend an overpriced institutution is not the only way to get it done.
So what do you do when the bill comes, but you are broke?
1) Just Say No
As a parent I understand the desire to give your children the world, especially the things that you may not have experienced. As a parent, I also understand that sometimes we have to say no, even when our children may not understand the bigger picture.
My parents said no. It was hard for them to deny me, but they did.
They said no to letting me make a financial decision alone at 17 that I couldn’t fully comprehend the ramifications of. My parents said no to the Parents PLUS loan the school offered when they new retirement was coming for them soon. They said no to pulling equity from their home to finance my education.
My parents did however say yes to college. Yes to supporting my dream to be the first in my family to go to college. Yes to wanting me to succeed in ways that weren’t available to them.
I had two choices: attend a 4-year public school as a commuter student or go to a community college. I chose the community college route knowing I would transfer later. Community college was affordable enough for us to pay out of pocket. By the time I transferred for my junior year (to another public college) I was more focused on my major and discovered a college that hadn’t even been on my radar two years before. I took out some loans, got a transfer scholarship, and we paid some in cash and I finished my B.A still in four-years.
2) Get on the school payment plan. Many colleges have tuition payment plans that will allow you to divide your tuition into even monthly payments (usually 10 months). The student needs to get a job as soon as possible and contribute to the monthly payments. This is what we did. I kept two jobs throughout most of my college education and over the summer’s often picked up a third.
3) Ask for additional financial aid. There are not unlimited funds available to everyone who calls. If, however, there has been a big change in your financial situation (layoff, job loss, reduced hours, medical bills) you can appeal your financial aid award. Generally you will be required to submit documentation supporting your claim.
Right before the start of my senior year of college, my dad was laid off. I appealed to the financial aid office and explained our sitution. They were able to give me about $500 in Pell Grant money due to the new cirsumstances. That was far from the $5,000 I needed to finish. The rest we had to make up in loans.
4) Keep looking for scholarships. The scholarship search doesn’t come to an end just because school starts. Keep trying and digging to find every extra dollar possible. Check out the The College Money Maze and College Prep Ready for scholarship resources for freshman through graduate school students. If you are not working a job, finding scholarships becomes your part-time job.
5) Live at home. One of the easiest ways to cut college costs is to live at home. Living on campus is a unique experience and if financiall feasible, should be something every college student gets to do. I did both, commuted for two years and lived on campus my last two. It can be hard to not go away like everyone else, but it’s saving for future independence.
6) Get a job. There are millions people who have worked while in college. It is totally possible to work 20+ hours, keep your grades up and still maintain a social life. You can also be strategic about where you work. Many companies offer scholarship programs or tuition benefits for employees. Companies like Wegmans, UPS, Starbucks and Chipotle are just a few to start with. I managed to snag a few paid internships along the way too, which is the best of both worlds.
6) Go to a cheaper school. August is very late in the game to try and get into a different college but, I will tell you it is possible. When I worked in college admissions, I did admit students up until the first few days of classes. In order to do this, you need to find a college that has a rolling admissions deadline. You have to have everything together, you have to qualify for admission and the school has to have space in the incoming class. Community colleges generally have open enrollment that allows students to enroll even after the semester has started. If you have already started, then look at transferring.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Working in higher education, I have had countless conversations with students who wish they would have done it differently. Wished they would have avoided the heavy debt, worked more hours to earn money or picked a cheaper college all together. I’ve also coached and counseled students facing the tough decision to drop out of college because of the financial burden. Eventually, life happens and college is completely on the back burner, but the loan debt still has to be paid.
When you know better, you can do better. As a first-gerneation college student, there weren’t many people to turn to for advice. We winged it.
My blue-collar working parents were aware enough to know that a lot of loan debt could be a bad thing. My children will benefit from my almost 20 years in college admissions and career development. They will also benefit from my having a career and income that was made possible because I went to college.
If you have to take drastic measures to find money for the first year, how in the world are you going to pay for five more years? Did you know, 59 percent of students gradute in six years. At selective flagship, research institutions it gets only slightly better at 65 percent. Most students will be on the 5-6 year plan if they don’t pay very close attention to the courses they take. Even on a four-year plan, if you are already tapped out financially at the end of the first year, you are playing with fire.
Take a moment, remoeve the emotion from the decision be strategic. Don’t let the college dream today turn into a future financial nightmare.