You know you want to go to college. That's great. You might even know what you want to study. Even better.
But there's one very important thing you might not know yet: How the heck you will pay for it.
Let's face it, college isn't cheap. According to U.S. News and World Report, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 school year was $11,171 for state public colleges and $41,411 for private institutions.
That's difficult for most households to manage. But what if you're on your own when it comes to paying for college? What options are available to you?
The good news is you do have some options, which include:
Financial Aid. You may be eligible for grants, lower-interest loans, and other aid through the federal government or colleges. To determine your eligibility, you'll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA as it's known on the street. On the FAFSA, you'll be asked to provide information on your personal and financial information to determine how much aid you could receive.
Scholarships. There are a variety of scholarships available from colleges as well as local community organizations. If you have a strong academic track record, are involved in the community, or have a particular talent, such as sports or music, you'll improve your chances of getting a scholarship. To find scholarships, check with the college you plan on attending.
Student loans. After you receive your financial aid package, you'll likely have additional money to pay. You can obtain a private loan from a lender, which will help you bridge the gap between financial aid and the cost of the school. Because private loans are provided by lenders and not the federal government, you'll need to meet some income and credit guidelines to qualify. If you don't meet them, you can apply with a co-signer.
Smart school choices. Though college is expensive, there are ways you can help defray some of the costs. You can choose a less expensive school or to live at home versus paying for room and board. Some students start in community colleges, which offer lower tuition. If you go that route, you can transfer to a four-year school after you graduate. You can also save on books by purchasing used books.
Work study/part-time job. If you can find the time from your studies, consider getting a part-time job that allows you to earn money while in school, such as work study. Your work study job could be on campus or in the community depending on the opportunity available to you. Eligibility for work study is based on filling out the FAFSA. If you don't quality for work study, you can still try and find a part-time job at an employer near your school.
The most important step you can take is to start saving for college before you enroll. Saving isn't always easy, but it's the smartest investment you can make in your future.