Updated April 2020
Tuition is due and you’re broke. That’s the exact situation many are faced with every fall and spring semester when the school bill comes due.
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?
Think Beyond the Moment
Think beyond the moment and imagine the future. Run student loan calculators to see what the loan payments will be like. Then create a budget of what life after college will be like with rent, car payments, vacations and student loan payments. Imagine your desire to relocate, and enjoy your days off away on vacation. Then imagine that you can’t do any of it because student loan payments are sucking up all of your money.
At 17, I had trouble really trying to comprehend the full finacial ramifications of borrowing too much student loan debt. My parents said no to the Parent PLUS loan the school offered when they knew retirement was coming for them soon. They said no to pulling equity from their home to finance my education. Them ending up broke later in life to pay for my education was not in the cards. You can’t fund retirement with loans.
My parents did however say yes to college. With their support, I was the first in my family to go to college.
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). Get a job and help contribute to the monthly payments. This is what we did. I worked two jobs throughout most of my college education and over the summer’s often picked up a third.
Some of thoese jobs were paid internships. I earned money while growing my resume, networking and adding new skills. There are internship programs that can pay well above minimum wage. There are also companies that offer scholarships to employees like Target, Home Depot, UPS, Taco Bell, Buger King, Wells Fargo and Amazon.
Ask for additional financial aid
Financial aid offices do not have unlimited funds to give. 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 a private student loan.
As an Admissions Counselor for multiple colleges, over the course of my career I’ve had financial aid conversations often. There were times I was able to provide a student with a few hundred or thousand more dollars, and other time we just didn’t have to room to increase the award. It doesn’t hurt to make your case and see what happens.
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 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.
The most bang for your buck will come in the form of merit based scholarships. Merit based scholarships are offered by the college or university to qualified students. Some schools are very up front about the required grade point average combined with test scores that will yeild the highest scholarship results. Find the schools that you are the in the op 25% of their average GPA or SAT/ACT scores, and you may see more susccess in increasing merit money offers.
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 financially 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.
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, I was more focused on my major and discovered a college that hadn’t even been on my radar two years before. For the final two years, I accepted a federal subsidized loan for $5,500, recieved a $1,500 transfer scholarship (only one year), and we paid the rest in cash.
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, imagine the stress of four or 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.