So you’ve decided to get a college education. It’s still a great way to elevate your experience, knowledge and open new doors to career opportunities that can positively impact yours and others’ lives. But how do you make sure you don’t get taken for a ride by a rapidly expanding pool of higher learning institutions, many of which that are looking to charge students as much as possible. In this piece we’ll take a look at different ways you can receive a quality education without paying too much, mitigating costs (or paying them off at a pace the works for you), taking out loans, and choosing a degree program that gives you a better earning potential.
Picking an Affordable School
One of the best ways to keep tuition low is pick a school that doesn’t cost too much. Higher education is an increasingly competitive sector, and recent years have brought endless stories about fraudulent, for-profit schools being sued by students, probed and punished by the government, all of which leads to some colleges and universities choosing to differentiate themselves by offering affordable education. Many of these schools offer programs online, where students can pay less than they would if they were attending an on-campus program, and take classes on a schedule and with a payment plan that fits their lives and current work demands. There are many great resources on affordable colleges and universities, but two great ones are the 50 Most Affordable Online Universities and the Most Affordable Types of Master’s Degrees. And to make sure you’re not considering an online college that doesn’t have a good track record of improving student outcomes, peruse this ranking on How To Find Reputable Online Colleges.
Scholarships and Financial Aid
If you’re worried about the costs of college tuition, you might want to start looking into scholarships and financial aid you qualify for. There’s so many that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. However, there are many resources that can help guide your search, and a pretty clear hierarchy of what to do first. You’ll probably want to start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which calculates how much federal financial aid you qualify for. There are also corresponding processes for applying for aid at the state level in each state. On top of that, there are scholarships specifically for women, athletes, minorities, corporate scholarships, and much more. A great resource for looking at the different kinds of scholarships, coming up with scholarship application strategies, and general scholarship information and FAQs is Scholarships.com. Another great resource is Fastweb.com, which helps students comb through over 1.5 million scholarships with a helpful search function. College Board also offers resources on financial aid and scholarships. Also keep in mind that depending on what degree you choose, you may qualify for loan forgiveness, especially if you end up working for a non-profit, in government or civil service.
Taking out Loans
Maybe you’ll need to take out a loan to swing college. Unfortunately, the average student loan borrower graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Once again, there’s quite a few options to lighten the load for your education. It’s always best to take federal loans, or low interest loans, especially those that don’t accrue interest until after you’ve graduated. Forbes offers a great guide on how to go about taking out student loans that can be found here. They advise not taking out more debt than a first year salary in a position you’d qualify for upon graduation, to stay away from private loans at all costs, pursuing a career in public service and potentially receiving loan forgiveness through it, and much more.
Degrees with a High Return on Investment
Another great way to make sure your education is affordable is to leave it with a degree that gives you a high earning potential. These include degrees in health sciences, information technology, math, human resources, engineering, business, economics and more. By going to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can look into the career outlook for a wide swath of positions, and some basic research can let you know whether the degree your pursuing is giving graduates higher wages and expanding job options. On Online Course Report, we’ve ranked some of the degrees that qualify students for top positions, both in terms of money and job growth. Once again, online school puts you at an advantage in terms of affordability, and here’s our ranking of the 30 Best Online Universities. Here are some other rankings from OCR on Computer Science Master Degrees, Online RN to BSN Programs, Online MBA programs, and Master’s in Educational Technology.