7 Ways High School Students Can Prepare for The Cost of CollegeApril 21, 2022
For student loan borrowers, it’s common to go through a period of shock after graduation. Once it becomes clear just how much money you’ll be repaying – and how long it will take to pay off – your plans for the future can start to feel unreachable.
The best way to avoid that feeling is by taking out as little in student loans as possible. The best way to do that is by preparing for the cost of college ahead of time. Here are some of the best strategies to do just that.
Take AP Classes
Taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school can help you earn college credit. When you take an AP class, you can then sit for the AP exam. If you score high enough, you may receive college credit for that subject. This way, you’ll enter college with a few credits already in the bank. Some students use this as an opportunity to graduate early or add an extra minor or major.
Doing well in AP classes can also help you earn more scholarship money because it shows that you’re willing to challenge yourself academically.
AP classes aren’t the only way to get college credit. Many colleges offer placement exams for math, English, foreign languages, and more. If you score high on those exams, you may receive credit for general education classes and be able to skip some entry-level courses.
Apply for Scholarships
One of the most important things that students can do to prepare for college is to start applying for scholarships. Unlike student loans, scholarships do not have to be repaid and are the best way to fund your education.
There are several scholarship sites you can use to find potential opportunities:
Talk to your high school counselor about other resources as well. They may know about local organizations that supply scholarships to talented students.
Some students may assume they have to be a senior in high school to qualify for scholarships, but that’s not true. There are many opportunities available for every grade level. The sooner you start applying for scholarships, the more aid you’ll receive.
Start Researching College Costs
Many students don’t realize the cost of college until it’s senior year, and they’re sending in applications. Take the time to research college costs now to figure out what you can afford. Talk to your parents about how much they plan to contribute and if they have a college fund set aside for you.
Knowing how much financial support you’ll have can help you determine which schools are affordable and out of reach.
In general, in-state public universities are the least expensive option, with an average cost of $9,410 for local students in 2021. However, the average cost of out-of-state tuition for public universities is $23,890, and the average cost of tuition at a private university is $32,410.
If you decide to attend an in-state institution, look at what financial aid opportunities are available in your state. Many states offer special grants and scholarships just for local students, which can also significantly reduce the cost of college.
If your high school has a college counselor, make an appointment and ask them how to maximize your financial aid, even if you haven’t decided whether to attend college or not.
Focus on Good Grades
Students can earn scholarships in two main ways: qualifying based on need or merit. Qualifying for need-based aid is out of your control because it depends on your parents’ finances. But qualifying for merit-based aid is entirely within your control.
You can improve your chances of receiving a scholarship by improving your grades. If you’re having trouble feeling motivated, remember that every dollar you earn in scholarship money is a dollar you don’t have to repay in student loans.
Immerse Yourself in Extracurriculars
Another way to qualify for financial aid is to receive scholarships based on your extracurricular activities. These can include athletics, music, art, theater, and more.
Participating in extracurricular activities will also show schools that you’re a well-rounded student who can balance academics and other interests. It can also make you eligible for more types of scholarships. For example, if you’re a musical theater nerd, you can apply for scholarships related to musical theater.
Get a Part-Time Job
While getting a part-time job may not make a huge dent in your college tuition bill, it can help you save for other non-essential expenses like concerts, spring break trips, and going out. Open a savings account to stash your hard-earned paycheck.
Plus, if you work for a national or regional chain, you may be able to easily transfer jobs if there’s a location close to campus. Even if you can’t transfer your job, having an employment record will make it easier to get a job when you go to college because companies prefer hiring candidates with previous experience.
Limit Student Loans
One of the biggest mistakes that incoming college students make is taking out student loans without comprehending how those loans will affect their lives once they graduate.
A basic rule of thumb is not to borrow more than the amount you’ll earn your first year out of college. Borrowing more than that amount can make it challenging to save, go on vacation, buy a house, and more.
To get a baseline figure, use websites like Payscale.com to look up average salary information for your future profession. For example, if you plan to be a teacher, look up how much first-year teachers earn in your area. Use that amount as the benchmark for how much you can borrow.
While there are many ways to prepare for the cost of college, taking out student loans can sometimes not be avoided. If you do have to take out student loans, consider using ELFI to take out private student loans for college.* ELFI offers student loans for undergraduate and graduate level students. Use ELFI’s student loan payment calculator to see what your payments could look like.