Staying ahead of tuition hikes: A guide to paying for college

by Becky Hayes

Paying for college is hard.

Learning how to afford ever-rising tuition costs can be a daunting task, especially for first generation students whose parents have never gone through the process before.

This guide will hopefully help you learn about the options available and what will work best for you and your family.

FAFSA: What it is and why to apply

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the title alone tells you how important it is. What really sticks in the mind is the word free. Filling out this online application is one of the first steps when planning out how to finance college.

Everyone, no matter what social class, has something to gain by applying to FAFSA.

It is used to determine your expected family contribution (EFC), the amount that you or your family can contribute towards your education.

Also, it is never too late to apply. FAFSA has important dates that you don’t want to miss, but sometimes college is a last minute decision or life situations change. Whether you are going to college in six months or six weeks, apply to FAFSA - it could save you thousands of dollars. Seriously.

Ways to pay

Three of the most common ways to afford college are through grants, scholarships and loans. You need to know the differences between the types of aid.

Grants: Grants are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you never have to pay back. Unlike loans, grants---- — which can come from the state or federal government, from the college itself, or from private sources — provide money for college that doesn't have to be paid back. The FAFSA helps determine how much in grants you are eligible to receive.

Loans: Loans are often considered to be a last resort when working out a plan to pay for your education. There are a number of different types of loans all with different rates and terms.

Federal loans do not have to be paid while you are in college, however, private loans are not always as flexible. With student loan debt at it’s highest national level to date, you should exhaust all other college-paying options before applying for a loan.

Scholarships: Scholarships are available for students with specific qualifications or skills that monetary donors are looking to support. This can include athletic ability, volunteerism or good grades. Scholarships can be found online or within your local community and have varying levels of requirements, but are definitely worth checking out. A 500-word essay could be worth hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Saving money by making money

It’s easy to use college as an excuse to quit that part time job, but before you do think about the benefits of that small cushion of cash in your bank account.

When it comes to college life, academics always come first. Still, if you can find time to attend football games on Friday nights with your friends, you can find a few hours in your week and make a little extra cash.

First, if you are one of the lucky few to receive federal work study, start looking for jobs before the best positions are taken. There are great work study positions offered for all types of people:

โ— For those seeking a low-intensity position, work for your resident hall’s front desk. General duties include sorting mail and handing out toilet paper.. An added bonus is the down time to get a head start on homework!

โ— For those forward thinkers who want a jump start on their careers, many colleges offer lab and research assistants for work study. These can be useful positions leading to internships and valuable experience in your intended field.

โ— And do not forget to check out some of the student clubs. Many clubs offer work study positions that can be fun, help you make friends and teach you important managerial skills.

Even without work study, college towns are full of part time jobs and opportunities for internships. Take advantage of your school’s career services department and look around town to see what your area has to offer.

Finally, don’t count out summer and even winter holidays.

The summer is a perfect time to gain valued internship experience or simply earn some money to set aside for those loans you are most likely building up.

And even though the winter break is short, it’s nice to come back to school with a few more dollars in your pocket.

Although temporary jobs are scare, keep in contact with old bosses to see if they will let you work the few weeks you are home. A phone call can go a long way, especially during the busy holiday season.

If you can’t find a short-term job, take the winter break to think over those big decisions you haven’t had the time to contemplate between studies. Do you really want to be a nursing major? Are those three clubs you joined keeping your academic potential at bay?

And don’t foget to grab some summer job applications because it is never too early to start looking!