For many students, college is right around the corner—for others, it's still years away. However long you have until you start, though, you're probably already thinking about it—from where you'll go to school to what you'll study to the friends you'll make to living on your own. No matter what form your education takes, college provides a wealth of experiences that will change you forever and prepare you for what comes next.
College is a huge opportunity, to be sure, but it can also come with a huge price tag. No matter how long you have until you start, it pays to think about how you'll cover the costs. At CommonBond, helping you pay for school is our top priority, so we've put together a list of five avenues to explore that can help support the cost of your education.
1. Apply for Scholarships
When it comes to paying for college, the first thing you should do is apply for as many scholarships as possible. Scholarships are sums of money given out in order to pay for school, and they don't need to be repaid. They come in two forms: Need-based scholarships, which are awarded by colleges to students who demonstrate financial necessity, and merit-based scholarships, which are given to qualifying students by schools or private organizations.
Applying for scholarships takes work—each one will require forms to be filled out, and most will also ask for a written essay or a letter of recommendation from a teacher or advisor. Still, each one you get can save you hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars, so they're worth it. Tools such as Scholly and FastWeb are great resources for finding the scholarships for which you qualify. For more information, check out CommonBond's guide to finding and applying for scholarships.
2. Fill Out the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is potentially your most valuable tool when it comes to figuring out how you'll pay for college. It will tell you how much you and your family are expected to pay for college or grad school, and how much financial aid you can receive.
Filling out the FAFSA is mandatory to qualify for federal student loans and work-study, which are a major help in paying for school. While the FAFSA has a reputation for being complicated and taking a long time to fill out, it's actually quite straightforward and can be completed in about an hour. It's an absolute must for any college-bound student.
3. Talk to Your Family
Many college students are able to get help handling the costs of school from their parents or other family members. In fact, for the 2016-2017 school year, parents paid 23 percent of overall college costs. If you're fortunate enough that your family can contribute money to your college education, that will lighten the load for which you're ultimately responsible.
The most important thing you can do to figure out how your family can help you is just talk to them. By holding open conversations about finances as the years go by, there won't be any surprises when the time comes to pay for college. Whether or not your family is able to offer you any money, you'll already know and you'll be able to factor it into your plans.
4. Find a Part-Time Job or Paid Internship
Before college ever starts, many students already have work experience in the form of part-time jobs. If you have one, congratulations—you're already learning important lessons about financial responsibility. It makes sense to take the experience one step further and dedicate a certain percentage of your earnings to go toward tuition or other college expenses.
Once you're in school, there will be more opportunities to earn money. You can stick with a traditional part-time job, or if your financial aid letter specifies it, you can apply to the Federal Work-Study Program. Work-Study sets accepted students up with jobs related to civic service or their chosen majors, helping them make money to put toward the costs of their educations.
The most valuable option, if possible, will be to find a paid internship. Not only will you be earning money, but you'll also be getting on-the-job experience relating to your course of study. An internship can even open a path to a full-time job after graduation.
5. Take Out Student Loans
Though it pays to take advantage of the loans you can get from the U.S. government, most federal loans have relatively low maximum amounts and won't cover the costs of private or out-of-state colleges. Many students turn to private loans in order to pay off the balances of what they owe.
To take out a private loan, you'll need a cosigner (usually a parent or other family member) who will guarantee payment on your loans. You'll also need to find a lender you can trust—one who will not only give you competitive interest rates and payment terms, but also provide customer care that will ensure all the questions you have are properly answered.
Once you've finished exploring this fifth step, your college funding situation should be much clearer. Good luck and enjoy school!