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Most Affordable Ways to Go to College

by Jennifer Ryan

Today, more and more people are deciding to go to college. One can say that it is definitely the norm to get an undergraduate degree. Having an post secondary education can open many doors for you when it comes to starting your career. May employers are even requiring a degree of some sort for their entry level positions. Unfortunately, college is very expensive. You can expect to pay $20,000 for some in state or public universities, and the prices climb from there. Some of the most prestigious colleges cost $65,000 and more per year. This is why we have put together these tips to inform you of the most affordable ways to go to college.

Don’t Rush It

One of the best ways to save money when it comes to going to college is by not rushing your decision. Decision in what? Well, your decision to go to college, what you are studying, and where. High school students are put through so much pressure to figure out what they want to be doing the rest of their lives. This is a huge choice to make at a time where you can barely feed yourself by your own.

This can lead to many students taking out way more debt than they need, or picking a major they are only partially interested in. The biggest waste of time and money when it comes to going to college is picking a topic of study you don’t want to use throughout your life. You may pick your school based on your major and get half way through your time in college only to decide you want to do something else. You then may have to transfer and lose some of the credits you earned. This is a huge waste of money.

So, one piece of advice is to not rush your decision when choosing your major. If you need to, just be undeclared and work on getting some basic credits under you belt. Or, pick a major that is very broad. For instance, business is a great general category. If you know you like business, you have many options down the line. You can pursue accounting, finance, management, and all the facets contained within.

Two Year Degree at Public College

One of the most affordable ways to go to college is by first attending a two year college. There are several cost savings benefits to this. Many people choose this type of school because they are less expensive, and usually closer to home. This means that you can save a ton of money when it comes to room and board if you stay living at your parents.

The first two years of a traditional four year college is spent on all the basic courses anyways. You don’t really get into the meat of it all until your Junior year.

If you are unsure what area of study you want to pursue, starting at a two year degree may be the right choice for you. After you get a general two year degree, you can then transfer and complete the remaining two years else where.

There are some downside to this approach. You may not be getting the full college experience, and commuting is not always that fun. However you are going to have to weigh everything out yourself and see if the price you pay for the college ‘experience’ is worth it.

Trade School

Another one of the ways to go to college is by attending trade school. Here, you can learn to become a mechanic, electrician, plumber, and more. Many people do not realize how rewarding these jobs can be. Considering so many people are going the traditional college path, there is going to be a huge demand for these trade type jobs.

There are different paths when attending trade school. You can go to trade school to become a plumber or welder for instance, and stay in the field and not continue your education. This is fine! Both of these professions make very good money. If you do go to a trade school, you will less likely need to take out a ton of debt. Plus, you get to start working and making money sooner!

If you think you do want to continue your education and year a traditional four year degree, trade school may be up your ally. For instance, what if your dream job is a mechanical engineer. Maybe you are thinking about going to a two year trade school to become a mechanic. After your time is done, you can then get the other two or required years of training to become a mechanical engineer. This can be a great way to get your hands dirty, learn real world skills, and get some great experience for your resume. Plus, many colleges and universities accept transfer credits from accredited trade schools.

Scholarships

If your parents didn’t create a 529 savings plan and you need financial assistance to go to college, scholarships are a great option. At the end of the day, a scholarship is free money. Plus, there are so many different types of scholarships you can apply for. For instance, some scholarships may be focused solely on academic performance, others may be based on sports. There are also some very specific requirements for scholarships – one example is that they may only offer the funds to someone living in a specific town, going to a specific college or university, to study a specific field.

If your academic performance is strong, definitely apply for scholarships. If your grades are lacking, don’t fret. Many scholarships are given based on criteria other than grades.

There is no limit on the number of scholarships you can get. Also, many different types of organizations offer scholarships. The school itself may give you a scholarship, and some companies, organizations, and non profits in your area may give money. Some scholarships also may be coming from a trust fund. If this is the case, someone may have passed away, left money to a trust, and is instructing the trustee to disperse the funds in the form of scholarships.

Scholarships also come in different sizes – some may be a few hundred bucks. Others may be a full ride. Remember, every dollar counts!

Work Through College

One way to make college more affordable is by getting a job or side hustle. This does not have to be full time. Even a job where you work a couple days a week can offset the cost of college. You can start paying off your college loans with this cash, or use it to pay rent so you don’t have to pay room and board at your college.

If you don’t know what type of job to get, the opportunities are endless. So many companies are looking for seasonal or temporary workers. You can find a job that you work during the school year, or just work through summer. If you want to earn money, but don’t want an actual job, get a side gig. There are so many side gig and small business ideas for college students out there.

In some cases, you can even get hired by your college through a program called work-study. This is where you do some job around campus. Some examples include working in the schools athletic facility or gym, library, or dining hall. There are even job opportunities in different administrative departments of the school like advancement, student activities, marketing, and more. Note, work-study job opportunities are usually tied to your finance aid package so not all students may be eligible.

If you are looking for a job to help you out during college, try to find something related to your field. For instance, if you are interesting in banking, find a seasonal job as a bank teller. This is the most fundamental position in retail finance and banking. A part time job to begin with can easily lead to a full time position. As a teller, you will learn about the bank’s products and services, different departments and what they do (i.e. lending), how the bank makes money, and most importantly customer service skills. Banks all operate the same way for the most part. so this can be a great opportunity. You can also use it as a way to build your resume and get entry level job skills.

Get an Internship

Another one of the ways to go to college affordably is by getting an internship. Many internships are paid and are related to your major. This can be a big win-win. Not only are you making money, but you are gaining real world experience.

Many employers look at perspective employee’s past internship positions. It can show them that you are devoted to learning and are motivated about the job.

One downside to getting an internship is that at some school, you actually have to pay for them. With most internships, you earn college credits which are needed to graduate. You have to pay the school for each credit you earn. So, if you get a college internship that earns credits, you will have to pay the college. This can be a weird situation. If the internship is paid, you are basically spending money to earn money.

Don’t Get a Useless Degree

The hardest part about going to college is picking your degree. When making this decision, you need to ask yourself what you think you want to be. If you are very passionate about something, this can be a very easy thing to do. However, you need to weigh your passions with reality.

If you passion is obscure, of types of jobs related to that subject are hard to come by or do not offer good pay, you can find yourself in a pickle.

This is why you should try to find a major that is aligned with your passion if possible. If you love animals, maybe you should study to become a vet. Love cooking but don’t want to become a chef? Look into hospitality degrees like hotel or restaurant management.

The worst decision someone can make about the degree they want to pursue is having their heart outweigh their head. At the end of the day, do you want to spend a hundred thousand dollars on a degree that you can’t use? I have seen too many instances where people go to college for something only to graduate and get an entry level job doing something totally different.

Use the job you are passionate about to possibly start a side hustle while you support yourself with a different job. Find connections to tie the two together where possible.

Have Your Employer Pay For It

The best and most affordable of the ways to go to college is to have someone else pay for it. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement which you should take full advantage of. If you only take a couple courses at a time, you may be able to get your employer to foot the entire bill. Of course this will take a couple years though.

Many employers will not pay for an entire undergraduate degree. If you have an associates, or two year degree, they may help you out. It is rare employers will pay for your education if you have not stated it.

When it comes to furthering your education, many employers will pay for graduate degrees for their employees.

If you want to see if your employer offers tuition reimbursement, or any other education assistance programs, look in your employee handbook. You can also reach out to someone from your Human Resources department.

Best Ways to Go To College – Summary

College can be an exciting and fun time. It can also be very stressful between studying and how you are going to pay for it. Stress less by making college more affordable through these tips. Be sure to know what you want to study, and look into two year programs or trade school if not. Research and apply to scholarships, and find a part time job or internship to make the cost of attending college less. Lastly, get a degree that offers job security and an acceptable salary, and look for ways your employer may help you out when it comes to paying for college.

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