How to choose a college you can afford

When searching for colleges, aim to choose a college you can afford. Many students and their family focus on location and the name of the college. While those aspects may be important, they may not add up to an affordable college education.

What Happens When You Choose a College You Can’t Afford

To get a glimpse of what happens to students who don’t choose a college they can afford, take a look at forums where students and college graduates desperately seek advice on how to manage their student debt. One current college student seeking advice on what to do with their massive debt has devised possible options, including faking their death or moving to another country.

One college graduate begins by stating, “I am in a bit of a pickle. I went to a 4 year school after high school. Got myself in some serious debt… I made some dumb choices…”. The student borrowed about $40,000 per year, and after having repaid some of the loans, currently owes over $147,000. The student needs to make a monthly payment of $1,578. That’s a hefty amount for a new college grad, who on average makes about $49,700 before taxes and such. The monthly loan payment is equal to more than half of the graduate’s gross monthly income. That leaves about $1,300 for rent and living expenses. The situation could be worse if the graduate makes less than average.

Tips for Choosing an Affordable College

Learn from the experience of others.  Instead of putting yourself in a pickle, make the wise decision and choose a college you can afford by following these steps:

1. Submit the FAFSA

Everyone should complete the FAFSA to see what type of and how much financial aid they qualify for.

2. Go after your academic match and merit scholarships

Aim for colleges that match your academic profile. Look at the average GPA and test scores of incoming freshmen at a particular college. You’re a good match if your numbers are higher than the average. In that case, you may qualify for merit scholarships, since colleges want to attract strong students.

3. Avoid private institutions that don’t give aid

Many highly selective, private colleges only give need-based aid. If you’re not in that category of students, steer clear of those private colleges. Since they don’t give merit scholarships, you won’t get any financial help from these institutions unless you qualify for need-based aid.

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4. Compare public colleges with private ones

Do research on the public colleges in your state. Depending on your financial situation, these might be more affordable than private colleges that aren’t going to give you merit aid.

5. Attend community college and then transfer

If you didn’t do particularly well in high school and don’t qualify for merit aid, consider making plans to attend a local community college and transfer to a four-year college afterward. This way, you’ll earn a bachelor’s degree for about half the cost compared to attending all 4 years at that college.

Final Thoughts

Many students dream of going to a name-brand college or one in a particular location. While those aspects might be great, they might be dampened by the burden of huge student loans. You’ll be much better off post-graduation if you choose a college you can afford.

(Photo: beltramistudios)