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Smart Ways to Pay for College

[Jul 12, 2008.]


For the past 20 years, college has become more than a place to get specialized professional training, or intellectual enrichment. College diplomas are no longer seen as being just for specialists. Instead, a college degree at at least the undergraduate level has become a minimum requirement for almost any job that is at all selective about its applicants. Consequently, paying off the kids' college has become the major financial goal for almost every family, right alongside buying a house. At the same time, paying off student debts has become the major financial goal for almost every young person.

Thus, it is important for parents and students of average wealth to do everything in their power to try to save money on paying for college. These are the many options--some of them overlooked-- that parents and students have to save money.

First, before entering college, parents and students should exert themselves to find scholarships. Most colleges give out merit-based or other non-need-based scholarships, and potential applicants should examine the offerings of the individual colleges they are considering. Applicants shouldn't limit their options: there are scholarships for a variety of students, from the traditional high-scoring academics, to sports scholarships, to music scholarships, to community service scholarships, even to scholarships for individuals of specific national origins, given away by private organizations.

Even if they think their family earns too much to qualify, applicants should fill out the federal government's FAFSA forms in March to apply for federal aid. In addition to grants, the government gives out loans, and offers work-study programs, which are often offered to individuals and families with a wide range of incomes.

Finally, the certain organizations can fully or partially pay for students' college educations in exchange for service. The most well-known of these is, of course, the US Military. However, one needn't enroll in active military duty to save money on college: organizations such as the Peace Corps, the AmeriCorps, and the ROTC will all help finance their participants' college educations.

Each school gives a separate financial aid offer to the student, which takes into account any loans or grants the student may have received from the government or other sources. It is recommended to bargain and negotiate with the school. Schools have been occasionally known to give more aid to students who demonstrate this kind of initiative.

One of the easiest and most-often overlooked ways to save money on college is to accumulate college credits. High schools offer AP classes to high-achieving students, which offer college credit. If a student takes enough of these classes, he or she can shave off up to two entire years of college--that amounts to something like $80,000 for many of today's private schools.

Even easier is taking community college classes. Community college classes cost something like $100 per course. Almost every four-year university accepts credits for lower-division classes from community colleges, and most community colleges offer lower-division classes that anyone can take--whether high school students, or college students during the summer months. You can also enter a community college and transfer after two years--your BA or BS diploma will still come from the four-year university, yet you will have saved tens of thousands of dollars


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