How Low-Income Students Can Prepare and Save for College!

Flickr user Merrimack College

Flickr user Merrimack College

For some, a college education might feel like a far off dream, rather than an attainable reality. There’s a lot of talk about how expensive college is, and the crazy amount of debt students graduate with. But in all that talk, there’s something that rarely gets mentioned that really ought to: college can be affordable.

Some of you might have just scoffed—“The average college graduate has $37,000 in student loans debt, how is that affordable?” you say—well, stick with me because we’ll explain.

Understanding the cost of college, and the options available to lower that cost, is key to making college affordable. There is a shocking trend of students not applying for financial aid, and the reason they don’t? The reason there’s a surprising amount of debt and all this talk on college being unattainable? Lack of awareness.

There’s a lot to learn, and a lot of myths to unlearn—so let’s dive right in!

Know the Difference Between Sticker Price and Net Price

“Tuition at UCLA is about $60,000.” Did that just make you cross UCLA off of your college list? It’s a staggering number, to be sure, but very few students actually pay the full $60,000 to attend college there.

The sticker price is the published cost of attending a college, which can include: tuition, room and board, student fees, textbooks, living expenses, etc. This is the number that most people look at and freak out over.

Instead, look at the net price. This is the amount you will actually end up paying, and is typically much lower than the sticker price. The net price takes into account scholarships, grants, and other financial aid you’re likely to receive and adjusts the sticker price accordingly. It is a more personal look at what college will cost you.

Colleges often have a net price calculator on their websites, where you can enter in your financial information to take a look at your own net price—however, would you rather go school to school, site to site and fill in that info every single time, or just do it once and see your net price estimate for practically every school in the country? College Raptor can help you with the latter—and it’s completely free!

Knowing what your net price is will allow you to make smarter, more informed decisions on how to pay for a college education—and it might stop you from ruling out a potential dream school just based on the sticker price alone.

Learn about Financial Aid (and Apply!)

There are numerous ways to pay for college that don’t include taking out student loans from banks. The most well-known form of aid is scholarships. However, well-known doesn’t necessarily mean well-understood. For example, did you know that most scholarships actually come from the federal government and colleges themselves, not private sources like organizations or companies?

Scholarships and grants are an ideal way to alleviate the price tag of college, because you don’t have to pay the money back—unlike a loan. Scholarships accrue no interest, no penalties, no debt. We’ve a number of articles on the subject of scholarships including: myths about scholarships, how many you should apply for, where to start, and much more.

Many people believe that private schools are far more expensive than in-state public schools—however, oftentimes private schools are actually more affordable than their public counterparts. Would you believe us if we told you Stanford might be the most affordable college in California? Again, we want to look at the net price rather than the sticker price here, but there’s another factor that comes into play—financial aid packages. Schools are one of the biggest givers of aid money out there—they want you to attend, after all, and that can’t happen if a college is wildly un-affordable. So despite hefty sticker prices, private colleges often give their students so much aid that they only pay a mere fraction of the sticker price.

Take the time to learn about financial aid, because it will make college affordable and attainable. Always file your FAFSA so you can become eligible for federal aid—some schools require students to submit the FAFSA, some scholarships require it as well. The only thing filing the FAFSA costs you is a bit of time, and the reward for doing so can be substantial. Only 45% of graduating high school seniors filed their FAFSA—don’t make the mistake of not filling it out, you future education will thank you for your effort.

Don’t Let the Myths Scare You Away

It’s often said that ignorance breeds fear, or at the very least, doubt. Some people are so put off by the sticker prices and horror stories of college cost that they don’t even bother applying to a college at all! A college education is more important than ever, and reacting based only on what you hear or think you know can be dangerous.

So go out there and do some research! Reach out to the schools to see what sort of financial aid packages they might offer. Use College Raptor to not only compare college costs and see your net price estimates, but also discover how your ACT/SAT scores, GPA, and other factors affect those prices! Read up on financial aid opportunities so you can make the most informed decisions you can.

There is hope. College can be affordable. Learn, research, apply, and reach out.

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