In last week's post, I discussed some of the federal grants and loans that can help you minimize your student debt. This week, I'll continue by exploring some cost-cutting options you may not have considered.
Work it off
Work-Study is another federal aid option for which you may be eligible. This program provides part-time jobs for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. Most work-study jobs perform a service to the community and often will relate to your course of study. For example, one young woman I know worked at California Science Center during her four years studying for a B.S. in biology. The only limitation she faced was that the amount she earned was not allowed to exceed her allotted work-study award, and that covered only part of what she needed.
Another student I know was able to complete his homework at Chaminade University while manning the seldom-used desk for audio-visual aids at the library. He came to see it as a paid study hall and a smart use of his time to offset the cost of his tuition. Just remember, work-study is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so make sure you apply for aid early on to ensure your best chance at securing a relevant opportunity. Keep in mind that it is a modest solution to a larger need, likely only offsetting 15-20% of your tuition.
Becoming a Resident Advisor (RA) for your school's residence halls is another option to help you save on college costs. Other budgeting tips: get a part-time job, choose inexpensive textbook options (rent or buy used), and try to maximize your tuition by enrolling in the full unit amount allowed. For example, when I was attending Columbia University, the same tuition was owed for 12 credits as for more than that—anything over four classes was considered a full-time load. One particularly ambitious summer, I completed 18 credits, and most semesters I did at least 15. Aside from the cost of books, I came to see this as one or two "free" classes per semester.
It pays to be brainy
You may be able to graduate college early if you've taken enough AP classes or college course work for credit. I know one girl who entered UCLA as a junior right out of high school after some careful planning and hard work.
You can also consider looking into progressive master's degrees, which allow students to earn both bachelor's and master's degrees concurrently, usually with significant savings on tuition. Competitive levels of AP course work and a high GPA are usually required, so only top students should consider applying.
As you may have learned in your government class, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Any loans you take out will have to be repaid—usually within 25 years, with interest. Do you really want to be paying back tens of thousands of extra dollars when you're almost 50? The trillion dollar debt fiasco in America brings criticism from other nations, where a college degree is a civic right funded by the government. Some grads find the debt so crippling that they resort to extreme tactics to unburden themselves. Consequently, you have to be smart about the amount of money you choose to borrow. Do not borrow beyond what you need, and remember that you do not have to accept the full loan amount offered to you. Seek alternatives.
Hit the road, Jack
In closing, here's something to consider: many countries with tremendous educational and work opportunities allow U.S. students to take advantage of their university systems for almost nothing:
- Norway: Norwegian students, including foreigners studying in the country, do not have to pay any college tuition. If you're willing to travel, and to study while wearing a thick parka, this might be for you.
- Finland: Finland doesn't have tuition fees, but the government does require foreigners to cover their own living expenses. Imagine going to college and only worrying about room and board.
- Brazil: Brazil's universities charge registration fees, but not tuition. Many of them also offer courses in English. Love South America? Maybe this is something to consider.
- Germany: Germany has nearly a thousand programs in English and seeks foreign students for its tuition-free universities due to the country's shortage of skilled employees in key sectors. Check it out if that appeals to you.
As you ponder your funding options, keep in mind what I always say: college is a vehicle, not a destination. It's a big, wonderful world out there. Embrace all it has to offer, and offer it all you have to give—just don't harm yourself in the process. Get smart about student debt and know your options.