Getting a higher education doesn’t come cheap, and the costs have only been getting higher. Attending college costs 3-to-4 times as much as it did 20 years ago according to the College Board. The average cost of tuition and other fees in the 2016-2017 academic year was $9,650 for state residents attending an in-state public university, $24,930 for those attending out-of-state public universities, and $33,480 for those attending private colleges. And those numbers don’t even include other typical expenses like housing, meals, and textbooks.
But while the costs have climbed significantly, many studies show that getting a higher education is still worth it. Individuals with a 4-year college degree still stand to earn more than those without one. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employees with a bachelor’s degree earn a median weekly salary of $1,137, as opposed to the average of $678 earned by those with just a high school diploma. Economists Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz found that if all workers were to retire at age 65, those who spent 4 years in college and earned a bachelor’s degree stand to earn over $1 million more in lifetime wages than high school graduates.
Clearly, it still pays to obtain a college degree. But to help you avoid racking up the large amounts of debt that can come with pursuing that degree, here are 3 tips for choosing a college that is affordable.
1. Don’t Assume That “More Expensive” Means “Better Education”
Sure, many of the Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities have earned their reputations by providing quality educations over a wide variety of fields of study, but not all expensive colleges provide a return on investment that is worth the price of entry. Don’t just be taken in by a famous name or a beautiful campus. Look into the different programs that the college has to offer, see how well any of those programs tie into the field of work you’re interest in, and find out how well its graduates do in the real world. U.S. News & World Report compiles an annual list of the best value schools, including criteria like the percentage of students that receive financial aid and cost of tuition.
2. Explore Your Available Financial Aid Options
Why take out loans when you can receive financial assistance with tuition that doesn’t have to be paid back? It’s a good idea to start by filling out the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) to see what federal aid you might qualify for, there might also be a chance that you qualify for other scholarships and grants offered by special interest organizations or the colleges themselves. Make sure to look into all available financial aid opportunities, paying attention to the amount being offered, the requirements to qualify, how to apply, and the application deadlines. Scholarships and other financial aid can be a major relief when it comes to offsetting tuition costs. Even to the point of making college practically free. Fastweb is another great resource for finding scholarships, grants, and other financial aid that are free for students to apply for.
If you do have to borrow a loan, federal loans tend to be less risky than private loans, as private lenders can set all sorts of crazy interest rates. Other benefits of federal student loans is that you aren’t required to start paying them back until after you graduate, they have fixed interest rates that often are lower than private loans, and the government will sometimes subsidize the loan by paying the interest while you’re still in school. Either way, make sure what you borrow is an amount you can reasonable afford. If you need to borrow more than the maximum federal student loan to afford to attend a college, you’ll probably want to choose another school.
Know That A Traditional 4-Year University Isn’t Always Necessary
You don’t just have to attend classes in the lecture halls of a university to get a higher education. As with many things nowadays, education has gone digital. Online universities and 2-year community colleges are also options available to you. They often offer many of the same classes as their 4-year counterparts but at a much less expensive price, classes that often can be transferred for credit toward a college degree. Some schools will even assist you in taking online classes by making laptops available to you for no added expense. Edsmart has a list of online schools that give refund checks and laptops to students.
There are plenty of horror stories of people still paying off student loan debt into their 30’s, but you don’t have to be one of them.