Summer is finally here, and after a long year of academic pursuits it is finally time to kick back, relax, and soak up some rays…right? Well, that is certainly one strategy, but it might not necessarily be the best for high school students with college aspirations, or students who are already in college.
The unfortunate reality is that college can cost lots of money. There are costs most students are aware of, such as tuition, room and board, and books. Then there are other costs which can quickly put the likelihood of paying for college out of reach. These might be the subtler expenses you don’t think about when looking at the cost of particular college, and include such items as travel expenses, study abroad opportunities, food outside the dining facility, data and cell phone expenses, personal living expenses, and the occasional social event.
Some of these costs may be covered by financial aid, if you complete the FAFSA and qualify, or by any college scholarships you might win. But the rest comes out of your own pocket or from any savings accounts your parents might have started for you. As the savings dwindle and costs mount, students often turn to the lure of credit cards or college student loans to make up the difference. These options, however, can have long-term consequences which can affect your credit rating and financial stability for many long years after graduation.
While these outcomes may seem dire, the best approach to avoiding them is to find ways to increase the amount of money you have available and to reduce your college costs. With that in mind, here are some smart summer money strategies high school and college students can use to help control college costs:
• High School Freshmen and Sophomores: That’s right – you need to think about paying for college at the very beginning of your high school career (and probably even sooner!) Learn as much as you can about the cost of attending college, and use every available opportunity to put money into a savings account. Really think about any expensive purchases you want to make, and determine whether that money might have better uses later.
• High School Juniors: It’s getting closer, and you will have a flurry of activities coming up to find a college, apply to college, complete the FAFSA, and search for scholarships. Do as much of the preliminary research in advance as time allows, and be very sure of all the deadlines you need to meet. Don’t leave a penny of possible financial aid on the table, because that is one less amount that will come out of your pocket later.
• High School Seniors: Congratulations – you’re in the home stretch, but don’t let down your guard as you get closer to college. Try to ask for cash instead of gifts for your graduation and squirrel away a good percentage of that amount. Work the maximum amount of available hours during the summer, and keep looking for possible scholarships. There are many that have deadlines throughout the year, and you might be surprised at some of the ways you can qualify for additional financial help.
• College Students: You’re already in college so you should have a better handle on the cost factor, but keep your eye on the bottom line. Make sure you complete the FAFSA on time every year, and look for scholarships that are only available to college students. Don’t rely on student loans to pay your expenses – watch your out-of-pockets closely, and try to earn money through the federal work-study program or other part-time jobs so you don’t have to borrow money.
If you think that sounds like a lot to do over the summer, you’re right, but these are some of the balancing, budgeting and planning skills you will need to rely on more and more as you make the transition into your adult life. It’s okay to schedule some time for fun, but don’t let the summer get away from you without putting a huge focus on paying for college.