You may have heard the phrase “I’m a broke college student.” But, if you prepare now, you can get better control of your financial situation as a college student and avoid the “broke” label. College is expensive. On average, a year of schooling can cost anywhere from $5,000 – $40,000, depending on the type of institution you attend.DSC_5065

So what can you do now to prepare to pay for college? 

  • Set yourself up to earn scholarships later. Get involved, volunteer, and get the best grades you can. And start exploring scholarship options early – you can look NOW for what awards will be available later. Where can you find these scholarships? Your school counselor, the college you plan to attend, along with ScholarshipQuest are the top three places to start. 
  • Get a job and save the money you earn. College students will tell you over and over again that they wish they had more cash. So prepare to have that cash to help pay for books, tuition, or even as spending money. Plus, students who have jobs generally begin budgeting at an earlier age. This will help you to make wise decisions when you are tempted with a desired but unnecessary purchase, like a new TV or phone.
  • Spend less. Do you really need that new outfit? Do you have to see the movie right now in the theatre, or can you wait for it to come out on Netflix? Consider where you can cut costs. Little things, including snacks, can really add up.

What is out of your control? 

Grants are awarded to students who show financial need. The amount you may or may not receive is out of your control, but it’s important to apply, as this may be an eligibility requirement for certain scholarships, aid at the college (like work-study), and loans.

To apply for this financial aid, you must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as a senior in high school. It’s a form that your parents will know most of the answers to, since it asks for information they submit on their tax form every spring. If you receive funds (yea!), the dollars can come from the federal and state governments and your college. Plus, you could qualify for free tuition at some Nebraska colleges, with programs like CollegeBound or Advantage.

The amount in grants you might receive is out of your control, but you have a duty to file the FAFSA to see if you qualify for any money. Get a parent on board and make applying for the FAFSA a priority. Want a bit more control to see what you might get? Use this College Funding Estimator.

What if it’s the summer after my senior year, all scholarships have been awarded, and I’m still short to pay?

  • Live at home. Are you going to a college close to your family’s house? The cost of room and board could be $6,000-10,000 per year! You may not want to keep kickin’ it with dear ‘ol mom and dad, but that saved cash could really impact how much you DON’T take out in student loans. Do you want to move out bad enough that you’re ok paying back thousands of dollars in loans later?
  • Start at a community college. This is one of the least expensive educational options available to you. And if you want a 4-year degree, talk to your advisor right away about only taking classes that will transfer to your desired college or university.
  • Take some time off of school to work and save money to pay for college.
  • Get a student loan. Exhaust all federal loans offered first – for a student and parent(s). But if you max those amounts out, you can shop around for another loan from a private bank. But think hard about the downsides of a private loan: you won’t receive such low interest rates, the rates might change, and the repayment plan will likely be stricter than your federal loans.

Most importantly: consider your future career path and your likely salary. I’ve read that you shouldn’t borrow more than your first year’s anticipated salary of a desired job. So if you plan to make $30,000 in your first year at your new job, don’t borrow more than that amount in loans. To be even more specific, use this free estimator from Federal Student Aid to explore potential repayment options. Calculate this every time you’re thinking about getting a loan to see what the payment plan will look like for you.

You don’t have to be a broke college student! Early planning can save you some major headache down the road. Want more ideas? Hear how current college students put their hands on some cash for college. And plan to not go broke in college!