If you are graduating high school and live in California, you are probably starting to think about how you will pay for college. There is no denying that it can be pricey, but it is an important investment in your future. Don’t make the mistake of avoiding college because you are not sure what type of career you want when you get older. If you put off school, it will be much more difficult to return later. The first few years are generally spent taking general education classes. You have plenty of opportunities to make, and change, your mind. The idea of putting off college while you work and save money may be tempting, but spending time away from school makes it more difficult to return. There are ways to manage the expenses, including some that are unique to California. Knowing that there are many options available when it comes to financing your education allows you to enjoy the experience.
Your first step in determining how you will manage your finances is to complete the FAFSA. The federal application for student aid is required for many types of financial aid packages. This form does take a bit of time to complete, and you will need access to financial documents. If you are independent, you will use your information, however, most students leaving high school will be considered dependents. In this case, plan to sit down with your parents to complete the form. It can be submitted online. Depending on where you apply, you may need to include some follow-up financial information for each school, however, the FAFSA will provide the required information for most students. You only need to complete one form and the information is sent to each school you are considering. You will need to complete a new FAFSA each year.
Community College is Free
California is one of several states that provide free education for citizens. This education is limited to the first two years at a community college, but this is a tremendous advantage for many people faced with the task of funding their education. California has an extensive community college program. You may find an associate’s or certificate program that you can complete in those two years, allowing you to obtain your education at no cost. If you plan to continue to a four-year institution, these credits will easily transfer across California’s higher education offerings.
Grants and Scholarships are not Repaid
The next option for paying should be grants and scholarships. The benefit of this money is that it does not need to be repaid. The money you are awarded is deducted from your expenses, lowering your remaining bill. While you may know to look for grant money, which is usually packed in with the financial aid money awarded by your school, scholarships are often overlooked. It does require some effort to track down scholarships you may qualify for, but it is money well spent, and the return on your time investment can be huge.
There are different types of scholarships. The school you plan to attend may have scholarships they provide to students, and there are private scholarships, granted by organizations, non-profits, and other groups, that can be used anywhere. Spend time tracking down scholarships and apply to as many as possible. The internet can be a great resource for tracking down scholarship opportunities. Treat the hunt for scholarships seriously, like you would a job, and you may be surprised at how well you are compensated.
Student Loans Cover the Gap
Once you have lowered your bill as much as possible through scholarships and grants, you may find you still owe more than you can realistically pay. Using loans to bridge the gap allows you to attend college and earn your degree. You can get federal or private student loans, or you may find yourself with a combination of both. Federal loans are backed by the government, and you can apply without regard to your credit history or score. One main drawback they have is that there is a limit on the amount you can borrow each year. Depending on the cost of your college, you may not be able to cover the balance entirely with this amount.
Private student loans are offered by lending institutions like Earnest.com. They work in the same way as other forms of loans; in that you will need to qualify through your credit score and history. If you do not qualify on your own, you can have a cosigner, such as a parent or a grandparent, to help. One of the benefits of a private student loan is that there is no borrowing limit. This means you can borrow what you need to cover tuition, living expenses, and other education-related costs. If you have a good credit score, you may also find that the interest rates on private student loans are lower than the loans you could get through the federal government.
Working While You Learn
When you get the financial aid package, you may wonder if you can lower the bill further. Borrowing money to cover the balance can feel overwhelming. Remember that earning your degree will strengthen your earning capabilities, so it is money well spent. However, if you are looking for a way to lower the cost still more, ask about work-study and other employment opportunities. The options may be limited during your freshman year. You may be able to work in the cafeteria or man the front desk of the workout center. There may also be on campus fast-food chains and shops that are eager to hire students.
As you progress toward your degree, more options become available. You can work as a resident advisor, which generally covers the cost of your room and meal plan, or you can work directly for a professor as a teacher’s assistant or research assistant. Depending on your grades, you may also find work in the on-campus tutoring center. Be sure that you don’t take on too much, maintaining your grades is important.