Funding College if You’re not Rich

College costs have risen dramatically over the last decade, which can lead to anxiety about the prospect of funding a college education if you’re not rich. However it is now possible to seize the opportunity of attending some of the best colleges in the country and receive what was once considered the education of the elite, through the colleges own financial aid packages. Universities such as Harvard and Princeton are committed to offering an education to those who cannot afford the fees, and offer financial aid to attract the brightest minds.

Many students are simply unaware that generous financial aid is available across the country, and automatically assume that the costs of college will need to be met through student loans. These should only be considered when other sources of scholarships and grants have been exhausted. Obtaining the necessary loan funds is relatively easy, but it does mean that you will be graduating college with a high level of debt which will most likely hang over you for years. 

Incurring this debt may well be worthwhile if it opens the door for better opportunities in the future, but if you haven’t got riches to fall back on it is best to plan for college costs early and explore every financial avenue. There are many families who are unable to help financially with college costs, and many single parent students who wish to further their education with a college degree despite their lack of funds. Some colleges offer all students the opportunity for free tuition in return for working in a college program.

The very last option for students is private loans which are the most expensive form of borrowing for a student. It pays to look into all other means of financing first and leave private loans as a last resort. Scholarships and grants are the absolute best way to fund college as unlike loans the funds do not need to be repaid. You can search online for available scholarships to apply for, and take advice from the financial aid office at the college you will be attending. Often they are able to advise on grants which you may not otherwise be aware of.

Most college students use federal government loans to finance college, but these do not cover all the costs. However you need to make an FAFSA application first, to apply for these loans plus associated federal grants. The best student loan for those without financial backup is the federal Stafford subsidized loan, on which the government assumes the fixed rate interest whilst you attend college. Personal repayments begin six months after college graduation. The loan is needs based and not reliant on a credit check, and many who qualify also receive a federal Pell grant to help subsidize costs. Individual states also offer additional grants to students so contact them directly to see if there is anything available.

If your main concern is repaying the loans after graduation then it is worth considering one of the state forgiveness programs offered to those entering a public sector career. There are also organizations such as VISTA and the Peace Corps which award a lump sum towards student loans when the term is completed. This is one way to approach taking on levels of debts which you may not feel comfortable accruing.

Other good ways to fund college are to take a year off first and work to save extra funds in advance, or work whilst at college to pay for additional needs above tuition and accommodation. Students can apply to work in the federal work study program. The first option is a very sensible one if you are likely to need a private student loan to top up your college funding, as unless you have your own excellent FICO score you will need a co-signer to endorse any private loan you may assume.

College is not funded by one source alone so investigate fully each option open to you, and take advantage of as much grant money as you can. It can be a sobering thought to suddenly realize upon graduation just how much debt you are carrying, so be sure to take the time to reduce this as much as you can by planning in advance of college commencing.