As anyone who is currently a student or who is thinking of pursuing a degree in higher education knows, college costs have skyrocketed enormously over the past decade. There are many reasons for this, one being the increase of demand (students are applying to school in record numbers), state budget cuts, and the increased costs of running a university as a whole. Measuring data from 1986, the website InflationData.com cites that the cost of a college education over the past twenty five years has increased by over 400%, while the overall inflation rate has been around 100%. While there is no definite explanation for the astronomic increase in costs, as students or soon-to-be students who are concerned about your financial futures, getting a college or post-graduate degree must be approached with a specific mindset. Follow these five pointers to avoid student debt that can potentially crush your finances.
Save Money on Higher Education
1. Carefully consider whether or not you really need to go back to school.
While going back to school can have many advantages, both personal and professional, it’s best to think about a college or post-graduate degree as a serious investment. If, after doing plenty of research in the degree and school in which you are considering enrolling, you’re career prospects won’t substantively improve afterward, then don’t go. Especially concerning post-graduate degrees, for many, the cost will simply not pay off in the long-run.
2. Consider doing a part-time, online, or evening program that enables you to work while pursuing a degree.
Once you’ve determined that pursuing further education can help get you to where you want to be in the future, see what you can do to minimize your costs without resorting to loans (or at least resorting to as few loans as possible). One way to do this is to enroll in a degree program that enables you to continue working while you go to school. This way, you’ll be working on improving your career and following your passion through education, while still keeping costs down and getting as much necessary job experience as you can get.
3. Don’t just take whatever financial aid package you get offered. Educate yourself about loan repayment.
When you apply for financial aid by filling out the FAFSA form, your school will notify you what kind of financial aid you qualify for. While some schools will give out grants, scholarships, or tuition waivers, much of the traditional financial aid package is filled to the brim with loans, money that you will eventually have to pay back. If you can afford to turn down a student loan then do so. Don’t accept your financial aid package without reading the fine print and learning about each loan you take out.
4. Place greater emphasis on living frugally.
Of course, if you’ve ever attended college before, you know that “living like a student” means living within small means. If you are older now, this sort of lifestyle may seem alien and perhaps even beneath you, but you’d be surprised by how much you can soften the school costs blow by simply drastically cutting down your personal expenses. Put off large purchases. Don’t rack up any other forms of debt. Consider getting roommates who are students also to get a feel for what living on a budget really entails.
5. When you’re finished with school, work aggressively to pay down your student debt first. Pay more than the monthly minimum to avoid added debt from interest rates.
Many newly-minted graduates are rather nonchalant about loan repayment. But more than other forms of debt, student debt in particular can haunt you for the rest of your life. That’s why it’s absolutely critical to sit down with a student loan officer and/or an accountant upon graduating to work out a payment plan that gets you out of debt as soon as possible. After finishing school and getting on with your career, again put off big purchases like a new car or home until you’ve paid down a significant portion of your debt. Always pay more than the monthly minimum, and do plenty of research before consolidating if that’s something you are considering (although in most cases you shouldn’t).
These are just a few ways to help you save money on higher education, both in the short and long term. Above all, remember that, at least during these difficult times, a higher education is a privilege, not a right, and if you don’t stand to benefit from the system, it’s best to do something else until you can afford it.