So, you’ve been accepted to college. Take a moment to do a happy dance, because that’s a huge accomplishment! Okay—happy dance time is over. Now, here’s what you need to know once you’re accepted to college.
How will you pay for college?
Now that you’ve been accepted to college, it’s time to figure out how you’ll pay for it.
There are a number of ways to pay for college. One common way of paying for college is using financial aid, which is money to help pay for your education.
Before you get started
Financial aid can come to you from the federal government and other institutions and organizations. Submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a required first step in order to get any federal (and most institutional) aid money for school.
Understanding the different types of financial aid
There are different types of financial aid, and it helps to know a little more about them.
Grants and scholarships
When it comes to financial aid, grants and scholarships are basically “free money.” That means you don’t typically don’t have to pay it back. Great, huh?
These are what you want to shoot for.
However, sometimes there are strings attached to certain types of grants and scholarships.
For example, if you get an academic scholarship, you may be expected to keep your grades up and graduate on time. If you don’t, the organization or institution giving you money can take your scholarship away or ask you to repay part of it.
Work-study opportunities allow you to work part-time to help pay for college. Sometimes, your college will place you in work-study, but other times, you will be tasked with finding the job yourself. Regardless, your pay will either go directly to you or be paid to your school to help cover tuition and fees.
Consider borrowing student loans after using any “free money” like scholarships and grants, or work-study job opportunities.
Not only do you have to pay back all the money you borrow, you have to pay interest (an extra percentage) on top of the amount you borrow.
Depending on whether you qualify for a Direct Subsidized or Direct Unsubsidized Loan, you may accrue interest on your loans while you are in school and for the first six months after you leave school (known as a “grace period”).
These options to help pay for school usually come in the form of financial aid offers from the school you’re accepted to.
What’s included in your financial aid offer?
You can expect to receive a financial aid offer from the colleges you were accepted via email or in the mail.
Some schools will call these offers “awards”. That name can be misleading. Some of the financial “awards” that colleges give you come in the form of student loans that have to be paid back with interest.
Sometimes you’ll be offered a lot of money to pay for school, and it can look like you’re able to go to college for next to nothing.
But you’ll need to look closer. One frustration that can arise is that financial aid offers are often unclear about what money you have to pay back and what money you don’t. Every college has a different financial aid offer layout, and many use different terminology and group costs together differently as well.
Sometimes, the offer won’t say the word “loan”. It’ll say “Direct Unsubsidized” or “Federal Direct Unsub” or even “Fed Unsb” for the same thing: A Federal Direct Student Loan, or money from the US government to help you go to school that you have to pay back…with interest.
If your financial aid offer is unclear, call your school’s Admissions or Financial Aid office to confirm if what you’re seeing is a loan, grant, or scholarship.
You can also watch this short video to learn how to better understand your financial aid offer.
Types of debt to avoid
Many times, students have to use a combination of financial aid opportunities to pay for school, which includes debt in the form of student loans.
However, there are some forms of debt you should avoid. The following methods can result in debt that’s extremely hard to pay off once it accrues.
Credit cards carry high interest rates, and using them to pay for school isn’t always a good idea.
When credit card bills aren’t paid off in full, interest payments can snowball. This can put you in a financial position that’s tough to get out of.
Payday, auto, and title loans
Avoid these loans altogether. They can have high interest rates and strict repayment terms.
Once in debt on these loans, they’re nearly impossible to pay back.
Often, the title to a car or house is used as collateral, which means if the loan isn’t repaid on time, the lender can legally take the collateral.
Again, avoid these loans altogether. The negative consequences of not repaying are too risky.
Degree choice matters
What you choose to study can end up being one of the biggest decisions of your college career, but it doesn’t have to be scary.
The information and tools on this site are designed to help you feel more confident in picking the major that’s right for you and your career goals.
Will your degree bring home the bacon?
Deciding on a major and degree requires thinking about a lot of different factors. Choosing what level of degree is important, as well.
For example, if your dream job typically only requires an associate degree from a community college, that costs a lot less than other higher education options.
You don’t want to find yourself in the position of being under-qualified for your dream job—or overqualified, for that matter. And, you don’t want to take on a level of debt that your career paycheck can’t support.
Matching a career with the right degree is important to your immediate future right out of college. Once you finish your education, you’ll have to start paying back any student loans you may have.
Take some time to research how much you can potentially earn after graduating with your degree or major.
You’ll want your education to help you land a job that pays a living wage and allows you to cover any student debt expenses.
But…while finding a career that will allow you to pay back any student loans is important when picking your major— it isn’t everything.
Think about the two things that will help keep you motivated at work: happiness and satisfaction.
Being happy with your degree choice
Your degree, and the job you get because of it, have to be satisfying.
Make sure you’re happy and interested in what you’re learning. Otherwise, you’ll quickly burn out, or start feeling trapped in a job later on. Picking the major and career choice that’s right for you can:
- increase your happiness and quality of life.
- stimulate the parts of your brain that make you want to dive into problems and fix them.
- give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
- make you wake up in the morning ready to go to work, not dreading it.
Passion vs. Career
You may be really interested in a subject that doesn’t offer the size paycheck that you would like. But you don’t need to give it up.
In college, you can still learn more about your passions and study for a separate career that interests and invigorates you.
College is about your education. Work with your academic advisor to take classes (such as electives) that make your education a well-rounded experience.
Many times, you’ll have to declare a minor in order to graduate. If you have a passion that you don’t want to major in, make that your minor, or take certificate courses to learn more about that subject. That way, you can still learn what you love while getting a degree that provides security.
Your college living arrangements
Where will you live in college? The answer to that will likely change over the course of your college career.
When you’re figuring out where to live in college, choose a place that will help you find success in your college journey.
Living on campus
Living on campus means you’ll be paying your school’s room and board costs and potentially signing up for your school’s meal plan options per semester.
When you live on campus, you’re at the heart of things. Your classes, dining halls, libraries, labs, campus events, and other resources are nearby.
Living on campus also means you’re less likely to need a car. You can save that money you’d spend on gas or campus parking fees.
Some schools will require you to live on campus your first year. This can be a good way to meet new people and get to know campus better.
If you decide to live on campus, you may also be assigned a roommate or suitemate. That means you might not have as much privacy compared to living in an apartment/house.
Living off campus
If you decide to live off campus, you gain more choice, more freedom, and, on the flip side, more responsibility to shoulder.
It falls on you to find out where you can live to keep your costs low when you decide to live off campus.
If you can live at home with family, that can save you a lot of money on rent and utilities, depending on what kind of deal you and your family have worked out. However, this option obviously won’t be doable if you go to an out-of-state school or a school located in another city.
You’ll also have to think about things like transportation, parking fees, food, furnishing your living space, and paying utilities.
Wherever you decide to live, make sure you have quiet area for studying and a study schedule that your friends and family will support.