Some parents seriously underestimate the current cost of college; others lack the means and are reluctant to co-sign loans. Then there are those parents who simply believe the responsibility of paying for college should fall on the person seeking a degree—that’s you.
Whatever the case may be, it’s time to take a good look at your options for funding college on your own.
1. Turn over every stone, even the weird ones.
Maybe you’re a straight-A genius who’s too busy rolling in the merit-based dough to worry about college funding. If you’re like the rest of us, though, there’s still good news: You don’t need a 4.0 to qualify for scholarships. Check out these popular College Confidential threads to see which awards average and above-average students are targeting. Then, ask your counselor to help you get a complete picture of your aid eligibility. Are your parents retirees? Are you a first-generation student? Is your family affiliated with any church or community groups? Are you left-handed, a vegetarian, or interested in learning duck calling? (Seriously, there are scholarships for all those things.) The secret to scoring major cash is following every possible source of funding, no matter how obscure.
2. Reevaluate your bottom line.
If you plan to take the standard $5,500 in federal direct loans and work while you’re in school, you can reasonably expect to afford a net tuition price of around $10,000 per year (after grants and scholarships). Think that price point limits you to state schools? Think again. Recent studies show a widespread lack of understanding when it comes to the real cost of college. Know your options, and don’t write off any school without first exploring their Net Price Calculator and talking to a financial aid representative.
3. Take an alternate route.
Instead of going straight to a four-year institution, many students are choosing to start out at an affordable community college and transfer later. Similarly, some opt to take a year or two off after high school to save up as much as possible. If these are options that could work for you, just be sure you have a solid plan in place, and don’t let yourself get sidetracked from your goal of earning a college degree.
4. Take what you can get.
Remember that not all valuable contributions are monetary. It’s time to sit down with your parents and have a serious talk about other expenses they might be able to help you with. If they’re fine to let you live at home during college, that’s several thousands per year you can save on housing. What about car/health insurance? Family cell phone plans? Books, meals, and other expenses? Even relatively small savings can be a huge leg up in the long run.