Taking Responsibility for Your College Finances (Part 1)

Last week, we focused on how to choose a major. Today’s post is the first of two posts that focus on the financial aspect of a college education. We hope that you enjoy it and that you come back next week for the second part!

image of a man holding a calculator sitting at a table with financial papers and spreadsheets.

As you near high school graduation, hopefully you’re seeking God’s will for your life and are establishing goals for the future. Selecting a college that will help you reach those goals and develop your God-given talents is a big step. Once you make those decisions, you need to lay out a financial plan to get through.

The best place to start? Your sources of income or funding. Most students have four funding options—savings, work, scholarships or grants, and loans.

Savings

It’s never too late to start putting money into a (mostly off-limits) savings account. Saving doesn’t have to be huge chunks from every paycheck—you can start off by saving just 5 percent of every paycheck. However you decide to save, be sure that you are making good choices in how, when, and where you save or spend your resources.

Work

Find out if the college you’re planning to attend has on-campus jobs available. Besides saving on travel expenses, on-campus work provides an environment compatible with academic demands and schedules. To avoid overcommitting and possibly losing out academically, start out with just a few work hours per week. Then add more if you find you can handle it. Any job, on-campus or off, will be a testing ground for your communication skills, ability to work with others, integrity, and work ethic—traits that will certainly impact your future career.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships are a gift without any payback requirement, but they take effort to secure. Selection criteria can range from having a certain GPA to planning to pursue a particular field of study or being able to write a good essay. The usual success rate for scholarships is getting only 10 percent of what you apply for. If, for instance, you’re hoping for $25,000 in scholarships, you may have to apply for $250,000 worth.

Grants, like scholarships, do not have to be paid back. They’re normally awarded on the basis of “demonstrable financial need.” Most grants come through the state or national government or possibly the college you choose. As soon as possible, you should fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM). Plan on spending as much time finding and filling out applications as you would in a part-time job—with a higher return for your trouble. You might even cover your entire college education this way.

Information about financial assistance should be available on the college website and from their financial aid office. Also, the reference section of your local library should stock a reliable scholarship guide. Be careful to avoid websites that request personal information or charge a fee to get into their database.

Loans

You’re likely aware that a loan is borrowed money that the borrower has to repay over time with interest. Borrowing can result in an ongoing burden after your college days are long past. It should be considered as a last resort and only after you’re thoroughly informed concerning every aspect of the transaction.

A loan consists of two elements—principal and interest. The principal is the total you receive from the lender, and interest is the additional cost you accrue until the loan is paid off. The type of loan determines whether interest is due from the beginning or is deferred. Of course, the longer you take to repay it, the more interest you will end up paying.

Education loans can come from either the government or private sources. Federal loans normally offer the lowest interest rates and the most flexible payment options. Besides that, if you have an adequate FAFSA score, you may be eligible for a subsidy—which means the federal government will pay the interest on your loan until you finish school. Subsidized or unsubsidized, loans are limited to a certain amount per school year. You should avoid borrowing more than you plan to make during the first year in your career. (Warning! A common pitfall for students is losing track of how much they borrow. It will help if you keep your documents and notifications in one file.)

College is a big step toward independent adulthood. How you steward your time and money will determine how well that journey begins. And ultimately . . . how well it ends.

How have you planned for college expenses?

Cosette About Cosette

Cosette came to BJU Press in 1997 and began working in marketing 15 years ago. Supporting her husband in youth ministries for many years, she now contributes regularly to the kids’ page of a quarterly magazine, Current. Mother of two grown sons, Cosette’s favorite pastime is reading to her granddaughter. Read more posts by Cosette.

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