As your graduation day looms on the horizon, two big questions are probably on your mind: What kind of career do I want, and which path is right for me? But don’t forget another important question: How am I going to pay for it?
No doubt about it, attending college or a technical school is expensive and getting more costly each year. Average tuition and fees at four-year public colleges are up 5 percent from last year and housing costs increased by 4 percent, according to the nonprofit College Board, which administers the SAT exam. Over the past five years, tuition at a four-year university has increased 27 percent beyond overall inflation, and two-year schools have also seen vast increases of 24 percent above inflation.
At the same time, federal aid for needy students has gone down, the College Board reports, and more students are borrowing money to cover their educational costs.
So what does it mean for you?
It’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to pay the bills. But don’t panic. The good news is that there are many different ways you can cover the costs.
The sooner you start saving for college, the more time your money will have to grow. Even if college is just a year or two away, it’s not too late to start saving. There are tax benefits to putting money in a 529 College Savings Plan or a prepaid tuition plan, offered by many states.
This is free money, folks; you don’t have to pay it back. Start looking for scholarship opportunities when you’re a junior. Scholarships are usually given to students with certain qualifications – academic, artistic or athletic talent – or those interested in a certain field of study. You can find out about scholarships by going to the library, or checking with your guidance counselor or college financial aid offices. And don’t forget about your FFA activities. More than $2 million in scholarships is available through the National FFA Scholarship Program, and the application period begins on Nov. 15. Visit ffa.org/scholarships for details. You can also search for scholarships through several free databases online.
This is borrowed money that you have to repay (with interest) upon graduation. Most students have to get some kind of loan to cover their tuition. Because federal education loans offer lower interest rates and more flexible payment plans, this is usually the best way to go. Visit www.fafsa.ed.gov for more information.
Military student aid, such as the Montgomery GI Bill, is one reason many people join the armed forces. Visit www.military.com/recruiting and click on “Education Benefits” for more information.
– Rebecca Denton