Everyone knows that college is expensive. The good news is, there are many different education options at different price points. And even if you find that earning a four-year degree from a private college makes the most sense for your career goals, chances are you can find some sort of financial assistance to help manage the cost.
Although cost will certainly be a deciding factor, it shouldn’t be the only factor. Whether you pay $3,000 a year at a community college or $45,000 a year at Harvard, having a degree that does not position you for a sustainable career could be a waste of money.
If you already know what you want to do, focus on programs in that field. When researching schools, look beyond the academic program to make your decision. Schools that graduate most students in four years and have strong alumni networks that help graduates find jobs can help you begin your career sooner.
If you don’t know what you want to do, a two-year college could be an economical first step. You can earn credit for general courses at a lower price than at a four-year university and dabble in industry-specific courses to see what careers appeal to you. With an associate’s degree, you can either transfer to a four-year university or begin your career right away.
In general, a two-year degree will cost less than a four-year degree, and not just because it requires fewer classes. According to the College Board, the average annual cost of tuition at a two-year college in 2017–18 was $3,570, about one-third of a public in-state university.
When it comes to four-year degrees, the type of school and where it’s located impact cost. State-operated, or public, universities offer lower rates to residents of that state. For 2017–18, in-state tuition at a public university averaged $9,970 per year, but out-of-state tuition was $25,620 per year.
You may also need to pay room and board if you aren’t able to live with family. In 2017–18, the average cost was right around $10,800 per year for all institutions.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid will uncover the federal grants, loans and subsidized work-study jobs available to you. You will receive a unique package from each school you apply to, and some award money on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you apply, the better your chances of receiving aid.
As you receive financial aid packages, compare each one closely and look at what they are gifting you versus what you would need to pay back. You can always appeal the package, but be polite and grateful for what you’ve already received.
If you need more than what’s included in your financial aid package, private funding may bridge the gap. Websites like Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com can help you find money based on demographics, income and other characteristics.
When you look at the total cost of college, the numbers can be overwhelming. But if you do the legwork to get financial aid and consider your future earning potential, you may find that the benefits outweigh the costs.