How to Afford College

Finding smart solutions to afford college, so you can avoid the burden of student loan debt.

The cost of a higher education has become a phenomenal burden for students and parents alike in recent decades. CNBC reported last year that the cost of tuition for the 2017-18 academic year was 129% higher than what people paid 30 years ago for the 1987-88 academic year.[1] If a student attends college and relies solely on student loans to cover the tuition and other costs, it creates a phenomenal financial burden by the time they leave school. In fact, Student Loan Hero reports that 62% of college seniors graduate with student loans, with an average debt of $29,800.[2] That amount of debt can lead to serious delays in achieving life goals, such as getting married and buying a first home.

How much does college cost in 2019?

According to the College Board the average net price paid by full-time students enrolled in public four-year colleges increased again in 2018-2019.[3] This is the sixth consecutive year that year-over-year increases have been below 4%, but even so, it’s still going up. The average net price also increased for public two-year and private nonprofit four-year students. The table below reflects the increases in tuition and fees, room and board for full-time undergraduates by type of institution. We provided the 2017-18 and 2018-19 college costs, so you can see how much costs have increased over the past academic year.

SectorTuition and Fees Academic Year 2017-18Room and Board 2017-18Total 2017-18Tuition and Fees Academic Year 2018-19Room and Board 2018-19Total 2018-19
Public Two-Year In-District$3,560$8,480$12,040$3,660$8,660$12,320
Public Four-Year In-State$9,980$10,810$20,790$10,230$11,140$21,370
Public Four-Year Out-of-State$25,670$10,810$36,480$26,290$11,140$37,430
Private Nonprofit Four-Year$34,700$12,290$46,990$35,830$12,680$48,510

The cost of tuition for for-profit college for 2017-18 was $14,000; costs for 2018-19 have not been provided yet as of the publishing of this page.[2] While the sticker price for college can be enormous, the best way to prepare for college is to save.

How to afford college to minimize the burden of student loans

Step 1: Plan ahead and do your homework.

Begin to research schools, scholarships and grants well before it’s time to apply to the school of your choice. Consider a local school or even starting at a Community College and save on the cost of room and board and tuition. In-state tuition rates are often significantly cheaper for residents. A good place to start is at studentaid.ed.gov.

Step 2: Apply for financial aid.

Apply for financial aid as soon as you can to beat the deadlines. Fill out the FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), whether you think you’ll qualify or not. Be sure to apply as soon as you can after January 1st to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid. You can also fill out a paper application available at any college campus Financial Aid department.

Here’s what FAFSA offers:

  1. Loans: Student loans make up the majority of most students’ aid packages. Some come directly from the federal government, while others are made available through individual lenders. Understand the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. With subsidized loans, the government pays the interest while you are in school, up until the grace period ends. Unsubsidized loans on the other hand means you are responsible for paying the interest that begins to accrue when the loan is disbursed.
  2. PLUS loans: These are available to parents with a good credit history. There is no grace period on these loans, and interest will start accruing immediately. You can also look for private lenders that offer loans to students and their parents.
  3. Work study loans: The federal work-study programs give students the opportunity to work part-time to earn money for college expenses. These jobs are either on-campus or off-campus and sometimes relate to your field of study.
  4. Grants: A grant is money that you don’t need to pay back and is based on your Expected Family Contribution. The lower your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – a number used by your school to determine your federal student aid eligibility and financial aid award – the higher your chances of qualifying for a Federal Pell Grant, or a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).
  5. Scholarships: Scholarships are free money usually awarded to students based on academic achievements, field of study, minority group membership and GPA. The federal government, state government, college or career schools, non-profit organizations, your school’s financial aid website and your course department website, high school guidance counselors, public libraries are excellent places to ask about scholarships. Be sure to beat the deadlines.

Step 3: Beware of scholarship scams.

According to the Federal Trade Commission look for these tip-offs that the “scholarship” is a scam:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
  • “We’ll do all the work.”
  • “I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.”
  • “You’ve been selected by a ‘national foundation’ to receive a scholarship” or “You’re a finalist” in a contest you never entered.

Step 4: Start saving early.

The earlier you start to save the better. Here are a few popular options to save for a child’s education.

  1. 529 Savings Plans: Anyone can open a 529 savings account for himself or for someone else. Individual states sponsor different 529 plans, with different costs and investment options. In some cases, there are state tax benefits to investing through your state’s plan, but don’t automatically assume your state’s plan is the best option. Visit www.collegesavings.org to find out more and the plan that will work in your favor.
  2. Coverdell Education IRAs: Formerly called Education IRAs, these accounts allow anyone to open an account on behalf of a child and contribute up to $2000 a year into an investment account. The account earnings grow tax-deferred, and may be withdrawn tax-free for qualified expenses.[3]
  3. Home Equity: Some parents use their home equity as a form of college savings. They set a goal of paying down their mortgage, or paying it off entirely by the time their children enter college. Because some colleges do not count home equity when figuring aid awards, if your child decides not to go to school (or gets a boatload of scholarships) you still have a house that’s paid for!

Step 5: A part-time job will earn you extra credit!

Consider the benefit of tuition reimbursement when considering job offers. Some employers will pay for part or all of higher education expenses, allowing a student to work his or her way through college without taking on debt. Look for work in a field that’s related to your career goals. That way not only will you be making money, you will also be honing relevant skills, contacts, and experience that are needed to help you land that dream job after you graduate.

Don’t let your debt derail your children’s future!

It’s almost impossible to start saving the money you’ll need for your children’s education if you’re saddled with high credit card debt. If you’re struggling to stay afloat and are worried how you’ll afford your children’s education, we can help.

Contributors :
April Lewis-Parks [email protected]Director of Education and Corporate Communications
Meghan Alard [email protected]Financial Literacy Specialist