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Choosing an Affordable College

written by: stadams•edited by: Trent Lorcher•updated: 9/11/2012

Thinking ahead can save you a bundle of money and future headaches. How do you get the most bang for you tuition buck? Gain more insight as to what to look for in a school and what you should pay for.

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    If you are like me then your inbox is filling up with advertisements for colleges and universities. And like me, if you’re in education or considering education as a profession one of those advertisements is bound to pop at the right time. My advice from this point: never buy anything over the phone from someone who calls you and never click on an advertisement in your inbox. Start your search using a reputable search engine.

    Picking a college or university is and should be one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. Yet, I have seen teachers put more thought into buying a new flat screen TV. The choices you make concerning a degree program could leave you with a mountain of debt, broken spirited and possibly a career of headaches. Likewise, a well planned college venture can be enjoyable and rewarding.

    You should look for several points of compatibility between you and your college, not least of all, Affordability.

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    Make an Informed & Affordable Choice

    The relative ease of acquiring student loans makes most any college accessible. The ease of acquiring student loans is why college tuitions are so high to begin with, but that is an article for another day. Just because Sallie Mae is willing to loan you the money doesn’t mean you can afford it.

    After you stop taking classes, student loan companies normally set you up with a payment plan of about $100 a month per $10,000.00 worth of loans. At this rate, considering interest, you should be done paying off you student loans right before you die. You should budget yourself to pay at least $200 a month per $10,000.00 worth of loans right out of college. This should have you paying off the loans in approximately five years. Following this rule a $20,000.00 a year college financed entirely by student loans will leave you with a $1,600.00 a month payment at the end of four years. A starting teachers’ salary averages about $35,000 a year which after taxes is about $2,100 a month. You do the math.

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    What are Your Options?

    Work your Way Through: Paying for college as you go is always the best option. Wait, I take that back: a scholarship or grant is the very best option. For the other 99% of us a part-time job, or full time job if you can handle it, could really offset the balance of future student loans.

    Scholarships and Grants: Even if you didn’t get a scholarship or grant right out of high school, don’t give up. Keep searching for opportunities on a regular basis. You may qualify for aid post-enrollment. I received a full Pell grant my sophomore year because my father decided to get his second masters and my brother was in his senior year. Over 50% of our immediate family was attending that year, which qualified us all for federal aid. Maybe another member of your family is ready to go to college also? Check with the financial aid officer at your college of choice. Things like leadership scholarships may not be available until you serve on the college’s student government. The point here is, no one will be knocking at your door to offer you money. You have to actively seek out opportunities for yourself.

    Location, Location, Location: Choose a college close to home. Keeping it local can save you a ton in room and board expenses. I know living with the parents for a few more years doesn’t sound very exciting, but most parents are willing to loosen up the reigns if you demonstrate the frugal, maturity of electing to stay home.

    What’s in a Name? Many potential college students get wrapped up in the pedigree of school. Maybe it is where your parents attended; maybe they have your favorite football team, whatever the case you could save thousands by taking your core classes at a community college and transferring to the four year program of your choice. This option has an added bonus; the core classes are smaller in size and normally a bit easier at community college. And at the end of the day the degree hanging on your wall will have you favorite college crest at the top of it.

    Paying for the Party: If you are considering colleges based on the “College Life.” I urge you to reconsider this. Would you pay a $10,000.00 cover charge to get into the best party of your life? Well that is about the average mark-up in tuition for more “popular” schools. $10,000.00 savings could buy a lot of beer.

    Masters and Doctorial Programs: Many colleges are now offering cohort programs, which charge a set cost for running the program. Which in turn, means the more people in the cohort the less you pay for classes. Check with schools that offer your chosen degree for cohort options. FYI online is much more convenient, but not always the cheapest option, find a friend who has taken online course to help you weigh your options.

    Negotiate: You may be able to get a discount for paying early or in one lump sum. Also, does your college require you to take filler courses just to get more money out of you? Most colleges do. You may be able to substitute more degree focused classes for Art appreciation, Music appreciation, Philosophy 101 and other courses outside your determined major. At least you won’t feel as if you’re wasting money.

    It is Your Time & Money: First off, you have to pay for it whether you pass it or not. So study and make the most of it. Secondly, avoid taking the easy A course that is not required just to fill your schedule. If you are concerned about a particularly hard semester, just leave off the easy A course altogether. This will give you more time to focus on the tough courses and you won’t waste your time or money. Finally, make sure the course and ultimate degree you receive will be accepted by the state educator certification office.