This is a guest post from MLR @ MyLifeROI. This is a 3 post series and each post is going live this morning on three different blogs: Bargaineering, Green Panda Treehouse, & Poorer Than You. I will be posting a wrap-up post to tie it all together and summarize each article.
You are 22 years old. You have just spent the past four years paying tuition, room and board, books, food, utilities, transportation, etc. The worst part is that it is all getting more and more expensive beyond peoples’ expectations. Where does that leave you? In a mountain of debt upon graduation. For some of us that means letting our debt dictate a less than optimal career.
However, what are some ways that we could better prepare for our college education? And if it is too late for you, how can we better plan for our children’s education?
I will outline three ways: Savings Vehicles, Financial Aid, and Reducing Costs. Each section contains a sub-list of “to-do’s” that I advise you to look into!
So far we have already discussed how to save money in the most effective way for a child, or beneficiary, that will be going to college. That post is more geared towards parents saving for their children’s education as it requires a sufficient time horizon. Then I discussed what different need-based options exist through financial aid. This is something that does not require planning (as long as you have considered the first article and did not create custodial accounts!) and can be done with the parent and the child right before they head off to college. The child should definitely take an active role in filling out the form months before in order to get a feel for it. This will allow them to fill it out for the next three years.
However, what is one area that the prospective student directly controls? Reducing the costs. Here are a bunch of ways which are tried and true methods to slash the price tag of a college education.
There are two Montgomery GI Bills. The one for active duty military offers a recruit the option of participating. If the recruit chooses to participate then their pay is reduced by $100 per month for the first year. What do you get for this $1,200? If you are a 4 year enlistee you are entitled to education benefits of $37,224. If you are a 2 year enlistee that number drops down to $30,240. Where else could you turn $1,200 into over $30,000? The Montgomery GI Bill for reservists and guards does not reduce your pay. However, you do forfeit a lot of the monetary benefits… you are only entitled to a total of $10,692. You also must be enlisted for a total of 6 years in order to qualify.
Another way to use the military to reduce your college costs is by going to a Military academy. They are tuition-free four-year colleges that offer a commission in the military as an office after graduation.Â What do I mean by Military academy? West Point, the Air Force Academy, etc. The ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) also provides scholarships for participation. These are merit based. If you look at the site you will see they also offer additional living expenses on top of tuition. A great deal if service to your country is something you want to do. If you have any questions you should contact your local military recruiter.
This is the option I chose to reduce my costs throughout college. I worked every semester except for one. My typical work load per week was about 20-30 hours. Then on top of that I usually did 15-18 credits per semester and was an officer in an academic society. The first issue most people raise is that they do not want to affect their grades. However, the only semester in which I did not work was the semester in which I got the worst grades! Why? Because I was not utilizing proper time management practices that I needed in order to weigh work, school, academic clubs, and a social life. Once I was forced to budget my time I found that all aspects in my life improved. And this is a life skill. Postponing learning this skill just makes it harder for yourself down the road.
What kind of jobs did I hold? I worked for College Works Painting, which is an entrepreneurial job. It requires you to run your own branch and sell paint jobs. You do marketing, sales, and production. It was great and I made a lot of money! After 2.5 years of doing that I decided to move on from sales so that I could get more experience for my resume with different companies. I worked for a small 3rd Party Logistics Company doing operational sales work. After that I decided to get more involved in the logistics/shipping aspect and went to FedEx Ground. Shortly thereafter I went to UPS in order to get a Part-Time Supervisor position. These positions are very frequently given to college students. You get $1,600/month (25 hours/week), full medical and dental benefits, and tuition reimbursement! Not only do you make money to help pay for school, but they will also give you money to help! If you are a union employee they give you $3,000/year. If you are a PT Supervisor they will give you $4,000/year.Â The benefits are really hard to come by. What did I get by doing all of this? When I graduated, on top of my scholarships, grants, and income from working… I was debt free. Worth it?
Co-ops are offered by some college programs. Drexel is a well-known business school that has a 5 year program in order to incorporate between six and eighteen months of co-ops. What is a co-op and why do some schools incorporate them? A co-op allows a student to work within a major corporation. The corporations typically are very willing to entrust vital projects to the students. If you want responsibility, a co-op is right for you. There are usually a lot of options so that you can choose a co-op that suits your interests and your expected field.
The benefit is that a co-op allows students to apply their knowledge in the field. Upon graduation practical experience may set you apart from your peers. A lot of companies offer the students who have co-op’d with them a higher starting salary. At Drexel University, the average six month co-op salary is $13,760. Other co-op programs offer similar compensation. If you were to do my UPS suggestion you would earn $9,600 over the six months plus $4,000 in tuition reimbursement. So the amounts are right in line but the co-op offers the advantage of a better resume boost and a potential job offer!
Have you heard of AmericCorps? AmeriCorps is an organization that links people with non-profit groups in order to make a difference in someone’s life. What kind of work would you find yourself doing?
- Tutor and mentor disadvantaged youth
- Fight illiteracy
- Improve health services
- Build affordable housing
- Teach computer skills
- Clean parks and streams
- Manage or operate after-school programs
- Help communities respond to disasters
- Build organizational capacity
- Benefits of Service
What reward do you get? Helping people! Oh… and a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award which totals $4,725. You can use it to pay for college, graduate school, or just to pay back qualified student loans. If you only serve the AmeriCorps part-time you will still receive a partial award! Another way that the AmeriCorps helps to reimburse college loans is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and a new Income-Based Repayment plan (IBR) which stemmed fromÂ The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. The IBR allows you to pay less money on your loans since you will be a low-income AmeriCorps member. Service is also viewed as an equivalent to a public service job which qualifies you for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program! Oh, and while you are working for the AmeriCops to get these education benefits, you are also receiving a living allowance and health benefits.
Scholarships are a great way to save money. My academic society had a pretty large endowment to draw from to give out scholarships. We had so few applicants that every applicant would receive something, with the minimum scholarship being $500. And it was just a 1 page form that took five minutes to fill out! That is $100 per minute… or $6,000 per hour! You would be surprised how many scholarships get left on the table. There are a bunch of websites dedicated to helping you find scholarships, such as FastWeb and Scholarships.com. You should try to take advantage of every possible scholarship. On top of asking academic societies if they offer scholarships and searching those sites, you should ask your high school guidance counselor or college advisor if they know of any scholarships that are available.
This is one option that I did not take advantage of, and I wish I would have at least considered it. Community colleges are cheaper by an extraordinary amount. You may wind up paying $5,000 for the year rather than what would be $20,000 at your state school or a private institution. You can take your first two years of classes which normally consist of basic requirements, or core classes, anyway. By doing this you may wind up saving a fortune. If I had done this when I was in college, I could have saved an extra $30,000 over the first two years of school – when accounting for tuition and room and board, since I would have lived home. I still would have graduated on time… just with a huge chunk of cash in my pocket! I certainly have a few things on my mind that I could have used that for!
Lifetime Learning Credit
When it comes time to do your taxes, The Lifetime Learning Credit provides an annual tax credit of up to $2,000 for qualified tuition and fees. This limit is on a per family basis. If you are a single filer the credit starts getting phased out at an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $50,000. For a married filing jointly filer the credit gets phased out starting at an AGI of $100,000.
There should be no reason you graduate in mountains of debt if you have the foresight to make a plan and stick to it. There are plenty of ways to chip away at the costs of college as I have outlined above. There are more but I thought these were some of the most sizable and substantial ways. Feel free to offer any suggestions that have a large impact, too!