More and more families are forced to put their retirement plans on hold due to the high cost of college, while more and more graduates face daunting levels of debt all the way into their 40's - and sometimes even beyond. College costs don't seem likely to drop anytime soon, so how can you maintain financial balance and still get a good education?
Today I'll share three helpful tips that can help you navigate the costly maze that is a college education, and come out ahead - or at least not so far behind. Whether you are a parent or a student, these tips should help!
If you are a student, study hard for your tests - whether the ACT or the SAT - and take them more than once! And if you're a parent, and you feel that your student's test scores are below their potential, don't let them settle for less than what they can achieve. Just a few points can sometimes mean the difference of thousands of dollars in merit-based financial aid.
I can't tell you how many parents I've heard say things like - "I want my student to focus on school, and not have to worry about working." I never understood this statement, and probably never will. For me, working was almost as much a part of college as academics - and I learned at least as much on the job as in my classes! I worked throughout my entire college career - freshman year all the way through graduate school. I started with a simple work-study job my freshman year, which led eventually to full-time work in the summers starting after my sophomore year, and gained me numerous wonderful friends and mentors, as well as valuable work experience, and a direction for my graduate studies. My 4 years of work experience in my chosen field even brought me several scholarships for graduate school - which are notoriously scarce.
I can't even imagine how different - and less fulfilling - college would have been for me, had I not worked! Obviously I'm not talking a full-time job here. It is important to make sure studies are not neglected. But even with a full class load, most majors should be able to handle a 10-hour/week job of some kind - and even that can bring quite a few benefits. Not only does having a job teach responsibility, but you can also make important connections, learn valuable job skills that may potentially qualify you for internships or other opportunities, gain experience in your chosen field, and of course, earn money that you can apply towards college costs! Many jobs on campus are fairly simple - minding a computer lab, helping out in the library, even assisting with campus security - and some may even provide opportunity for study while on the job. No matter what type of job you have, it can help you learn to work with others, take responsibility, and gain job experience and build your resume before you go out into the "real world."
If you're a student, don't be afraid to look for and apply for jobs on campus - even if you're not awarded work-study. And if you're a parent, encourage your child to get involved and get some work experience - preferably in a field that interests them - while they're still in school. It can save you money, and benefit them in numerous ways for years to come.
Tip #3: Get Help If You Need It
Obviously you will want to work with someone who has helpful resources available for both parents and students - some planners will have more options than others. Choose someone who is licensed or works with a large, well-known organization, such as The College Planning Network, or the National Association of College Funding Advisors. These advisors will have many more resources and ways to help families not only put together a plan to pay for college, but also increase opportunities for financial aid, help your student choose the right school for them, prepare adequately and choose a major, and much more. If you live in Ohio or Kentucky, we highly recommend Eagle College Planning. They are a long-standing and well-known college planning firm, with ties to both organizations listed above, and they have helped hundreds of clients successfully navigate the college system.
To sum up, preparing to pay for college can be daunting, but it is not only doable, but possible to achieve with great success - emerging from college with a marketable degree in a field you enjoy, and a minimum amount of debt to carry into your adult life. Whether you are a student getting ready to go to college, or a parent looking to send your children out into the world as prepared as possible, following the three tips above will help put you on a pathway to success both during and after the college years.