College is expensive. But in today’s labor market, it’s arguably less expensive than not going to college. On average, workers who have earned a Bachelor’s degree will also earn 75% more in their lifetimes than high school graduates will. Depending on the choices you make, your college degree can actually pay for itself after just a few years in the workforce. Let’s take a look at a few of the more financially significant decisions you’re likely to make—the ones that will have a direct impact on how much your education costs.
The price of a college education varies from institution to institution. Let’s say you live in Massachusetts and decide to attend the University of Massachusetts—a public institution.
In 2022, tuition and fees will set you back around $17,000. But let’s say you decide to attend a private college with a similar reputation for excellence, such as Boston College. That will cost you just over $60,000 per year. That’s a pretty big spread. So, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether, all other things being equal, the prestige of attending a private college is worth the price.
You may decide that some of the other benefits private colleges offer—such as smaller classes, opportunities to study abroad, and living in a close-knit community—hold a lot of weight for you, too. But if you’re leaning towards a private college education, don’t make the decision just because it will look good on your resume.
There are two other factors to consider when deciding between public and private universities. Public schools are much more economical for in-state students. Out-of-state students may have to pay more than $10,000 per year in tuition and fees when attending a public college.
And in terms of prestige, some public universities rival ivy league schools, in terms of academic reputation. Several campuses within the University of California system, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are among them. Strategies for Lowering Your Student Debt
Most college students will take on a substantial amount of debt to pay for their educations. One out of four Americans today are paying off their student loans. On average in the US, college students graduate with $37,693 in student loans.
But the principal amount you borrow is only one part of the cost of paying off your student debt. How much interest you wind up paying on your loans is another factor in the calculus. That’s why you should be paying attention to your credit profile. Student loan finance companies offer their best interest rates to borrowers who have the highest credit scores.
Lenders are in the business of managing risk. It pays to have an excellent credit history and a high credit score. Lenders look for borrowers who consistently pay their credit card, mortgage, and auto loan bills on time, for example.
They also want to do business with people who carry a modest amount of debt when compared to their earnings (also known as your debt-to-income ratio). They’ll also consider the length of your credit history before offering you a loan. Manage all of these factors well and banks and other financial institutions are likely to consider you a safe bet. And they’ll offer you a more favorable interest rate.
So it pays to know what’s on your credit report and correct any bad credit habits you may have. Knowledge is power in the credit game. Before you apply for any loan, you should download a free copy of your credit report.
Many students apply for student loans directly out of high school before they’ve had the opportunity to build a credit history or warrant a credit score. In many cases, that’s actually better than having a low credit score. But if you’re 18 years of age, you still might have time to develop a brief credit history. One option is to open a secured credit card account.
By depositing cash with the credit card company, you can draw against your credit card at gas stations, online stores, and other retail locations. Your credit limit will be equal to the cash you deposit. When you make a purchase, your credit limit will temporarily go down. Then you’ll get a bill for your purchases. Your only job then is to pay it before its due date. Your credit limit will go up again and you’ll be building a track record of on-time payments—the biggest influence on your credit score.
Or maybe you’re in the enviable position of being able to buy a car before you apply for a student loan and build a credit history on your own. You won’t be able to secure a car loan on your own, but if you have a co-signer—someone who’s willing to guarantee your debt will be paid—some auto finance companies will approve you for a loan. The on-time payments made against your account will be recorded and you’ll be able to build a positive credit profile.
Incidentally, having a co-signer on your student loans can substantially decrease the interest rates you’re offered, as well.
The global pandemic brought major changes in the credit market in its wake. Interest rates for all kinds of loans plummeted to historic lows during the worst of it and they remain favorable. If you took out your student loans more than two years ago, you’d be wise to consider refinancing them.
Between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic years, rates went down an average of 31.24% nationwide. Let’s do a little math. Assume you owe $30,000 on a 10-year term loan. You’ve been paying 5% interest, but you are able to refinance at 4%. Over the life of your loan, you’d save $1735 by refinancing.
If the term of your loan is longer than ten years or if you carry a higher balance, you’d save even more. If your credit score is higher today than it was when you originally took out your loans, that’s another reason to look into refinancing. Again, financial institutions offer lower rates to more credit-worthy borrowers.
From state universities to private colleges, most institutions offer some form of need-based financial assistance. Be sure to ask for it, even if you don’t think you’d qualify. Your grant may not be huge, but every little bit helps when you’re taking on student loan debt.
If you’re willing to do the research, there are thousands of other scholarship and grant opportunities that can speed you on the way to paying off your college degree. Local businesses, labor unions, Fortune 500 companies, and various non-profit companies set aside money to support higher education.
It takes a little work to research what funding may be available to you, but unlike student loans, scholarships and grants are free—no repayment strings attached. Each year, new gifts become available. So make scholarship hunting an annual goal. Many websites can help you through the process of researching and applying for grants.
Top Tips for Reducing the Costs of Higher Education
Whether you’re just applying for college or you’ve already graduated—no matter where you are in your college career—the right strategy can save you money. Here’s our best advice summed up in three recommendations:
And have fun! It’s true what you’ve heard: your college years can be the best years of your life. And they prepare you for a sound financial future, which can make life much more fun in the long run.
By Susan Doktor:
Susan is a journalist, business strategist, and principal at Branddoktor. Her contribution comes to us courtesy of Money.com.