For most students, going to college means taking out loans. The amount you will need to borrow (and eventually pay back) will depend on a number of factors.
FACTOR #1: YOU.
- Completing challenging high school courses?
- Maintaining a high GPA?
- Taking advantage of opportunities to earn free college credit, including AP, IB, or PSEO?
- Involved in extracurriculars?
- Taking on leadership positions?
- Giving back to your community?
- Applying for every scholarship you can get your hands on?
All of these factors will increase your chances of nailing scholarships and saving money down the road.
If you want a quick and effective way to research hundreds of scholarships, check out College Greenlight. This online search engine is designed to connect first-generation students with legitimate scholarships. It’s never too early to plan and research how you will pay for college. Even freshmen and sophomores can set up a College Greenlight account today.
FACTOR #2: Your family’s income.
Your family’s income will determine how much State and Federal Aid you are eligible for. The smaller your family’s income, the more grants and loans you will receive. Students who complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) during their senior year may be eligible to receive the following Federal Aid:
** Note: Federal grant/loan amounts vary by year. The amounts listed below apply to 2015-16.**
- Pell Grant: Up to $5,775 annually you do not have to pay back.
- FSEOG Grant: Up to $4,000 annually you do not have to pay back.
- Perkins Loan: Up to $5,500 you can can borrow annually at low, fixed interest rates.
- Direct Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loans: Up to $5,500-$12,500 you can borrow annually at low, fixed interest rates.
- Work Study: Money you can earn through flexible, on-campus jobs.
If you’re into number crunching, you can also use the calculators below to estimate your college costs:
- Calculate your family’s expected contribution.
- Calculate how much Federal Aid you might be eligible for.
FACTOR # 3: The institution you ultimately select.
Colleges are not created equal. Some work harder than others to make sure your degree is affordable for you. This is why it’s important to be a smart consumer and ask the right questions…
- What is the college’s total cost of attendance (tuition, supplies, and living expenses)?
- What kind of institutional grants and scholarships does the school offer to students?
- What is the average amount of debt students walk away with?
- What is the institution’s Sticker Price versus Net Price?
A savvy student consumer pays attention to each college’s Sticker Price versus its Net Price. Sticker Price is the annual cost of tuition and fees. Net Price is the annual cost of tuition and fees, minus grants and scholarships. In other words, Net Price tells you what you’ll ACTUALLY pay to attend each school. (Note: Sticker and Net Price do not factor in room and board costs.)
Understanding the difference between these two terms will help you get a more accurate picture of each college’s costs. A number of institutions might be more affordable than you think. For some enlightening statistics, check out the numbers below.
Students can now look up the Net Price for over 3,500 institutions across the country. The U.S. Department of Education has compiled data for each of these schools at College Scorecard. You can even see what your average monthly loan payment might look like after you’ve graduated from each institution.
FACTOR # 4: The value YOU place on education.
Post-secondary education is an investment you make in yourself. There’s no one way to do it or to pay for it. But, there are many ways to be smart about it…
- Know what kind of Financial Aid is available to you.
- Approach high school as a full-time job; work hard now so you can earn scholarships later.
- Become an educated consumer. Know exactly what you are paying for and what its value will be to you in the long run. For instance, if you are pursuing a low-paying career, perhaps a high Net Price college isn’t the best option for you.
Make educated decisions throughout your college journey and the long term gains will likely outweigh the costs. On average, college graduates earn $1 million dollars more over their lifetime than high school graduates. This statistic from the U.S. Department of Education certainly puts into perspective the monetary value of post-secondary education. Not to mention the intellectual and personal growth a college education can also provide.
With careful planning, college CAN be affordable. And worth it.
“We believe, that is, you and I, that education is not an expense. We believe it is an investment.” – Lyndon B. Johnson, October 16, 1968