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Secrets To Paying For College

It's not uncommon today for young people to find themselves financing their college education mostly or completely on their own.  Although this task may sound next to impossible for students who are evaluating the costs of different colleges, it is a process that many people have navigated successfully.  Students who explore their financing options, think carefully about their choice of school, and keep spending under control with a prepaid card for teens or similar product should be able to cover college expenses entirely on their own. 

Step One: Apply for any Relevant Aid

For most students, receiving student aid starts with having a parent fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  This form documents a parent's income and allows students to qualify for need-based loans.  Students with lower-income parents may also qualify for grants that do not ever have to be paid back.  Many students qualify for loans that cover most educational costs on the basis of the FAFSA.  Students who don't can apply for additional scholarships, grants, or loans directly from colleges, businesses, or other independent parties. 

Step Two: Keep Personal Spending Under Control

Many students are surprised to find that, even if they qualify for all of the aid that they think they need, keeping up with college costs is a challenge.  Expenses like textbooks, school supplies, business clothes, and parking passes are not accounted for when loans are being awarded.  There are almost always hidden or unexpected expenses associated with higher education.  Students should make a budget, use financial services like SpendSmart's pre paid card that doesn't allow overspending, and accept that they are going to be living frugally during college.  One phrase worth remembering is, "You can live like a student during college, or you can live like one afterward."  College students who spend irresponsibly will pay the price later, but students who buckle down for a few years will be in a good position to succeed as professional adults.

Step Three: Weigh Your Choice of Schools Carefully

If you are deciding between attending colleges with markedly different models and price points — say you're comparing a community college, state college, and private university — it's important to view your education as an investment and evaluate the kind of return that you will get.  Some students believe that attending well-known, top-ranked schools opens more doors when it comes to internships and career opportunities.  Other students feel that they can get an equally high-quality education at a more affordable local school.  It's important to evaluate your career plans, potential future earnings, and likelihood of finding a job in your field when determining how much to spend financing your education.  Don't be afraid to re-evaluate your choice when you're a few years into your education, either.

Step Four: Keep Sight of the Final Goal

Paying for college on your own is difficult, and there are going to be trade-offs when it comes to your leisure time and personal purchases.  Covering all of your own costs takes serious self-discipline and even a significant investment of time, since you have to actively seek out and manage your loans. It can be tough, but for students who have a final plan and always keep sight of it, the effort will be more than worthwhile.

Presented by SpendSmart

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