The average college student graduates with $30,000 in student debt. If you pursue grad school or take longer than usual to graduate, your debt load could be even higher. It’s enough to make any student think twice before investing in a degree program. Despite this price tag, a college degree remains one of the best investments you can make, with an extraordinary return on your initial costs.
In 2019, college graduates had median weekly earnings of $415 more than people who started, but did not finish, college. That adds up to more than $20,000 in additional earnings in a year—an earnings difference that could pay off the average student debt load in less than two years.
Here’s what you can do to realize the value of a good education—and reap the long-term salary benefits—without weathering a financial storm.
College Degree: Cost vs. Value
There’s no getting around the fact that a college degree is expensive, especially if you’re already worried about money. But when weighing the financial realities of returning to school, it’s important to consider the value a degree may offer. Some questions you can ask to assess whether you can afford school include:
- How much would my monthly loan payments be, and could I afford them if I made more money?
- How might a college degree improve access to other money-saving opportunities, such as better healthcare or a more stable living environment?
- By how much would my lifetime potential earnings increase if I returned to school?
- Would my college degree improve my overall quality of life?
- Would a better job improve opportunities for my children? Would more earnings reduce the likelihood that they would need to take out loans to fund their own education?
If you’re convinced that a degree could offer significant value, then you should know that there are many ways to cut back the total cost of tuition. While debt may be scary, it can absolutely be worth it to take on a manageable debt load in exchange for a shot at a much better life.
How to Make College More Affordable
It’s one thing to talk about the value of a college degree. It’s quite another to come up with the money. But don’t give up just yet. Most students find ways to cut back on costs, and some can even get enough funding to cover the entire cost of attendance—including additional expenses such as transportation and childcare. Even if you have defaulted on a student loan or are already struggling to pay your bills, it’s important to seek expert insight to ensure you are taking advantage of all the resources available to you.
Not sure where to get started or how you’ll ever manage to fund the costs of college? Here are some of our best tips to make college more affordable.
Paying for college begins with a financial aid application at studentaid.gov. This application will identify many need-based opportunities, including federal and some local grants. It can also tell you the dollar value of subsidized federal loans for which you might be eligible. You do not have to repay these loans until you graduate, and they do not accrue interest while you are in school.
Scholarships are an excellent option for funding your education, and they are more accessible than you might think. You don’t have to be a genius or academic superstar to get one either. Many nonprofits, businesses, and other organizations award scholarships to students based on need, community service, or membership in a particular group. Websites such as Unigo offer a comprehensive list of scholarships for which you might be eligible. Your school’s financial aid office can also alert you to scholarships that might be the best fit for your needs.
Student loans are a great option for funding your education. Federally subsidized loans are the most affordable option because you do not have to repay them while you are in school, and they will not begin accruing interest until you graduate. These loans are partially based on need. If you are not eligible for subsidized loans, or cannot get enough funding, unsubsidized and private loans are also an option. You can use these loans to fund all of the costs of your education, including transportation and childcare. So though you’ll rack up some debt, you may have less financial stress while you are in college.
Graduating more quickly offers several benefits. It means you’ll begin a new career more quickly, potentially increasing your lifetime earnings. It can also mean a lower overall tuition bill, especially if you enroll as a full-time student every semester and minimize your total number of semesters of enrollment.
At SNU, we work with students to ensure they get credit for all of the work they completed prior to enrollment. Not only will your transfer credits come with you, but you can also get up to a year of credit through our prior learning assessment.
Focus on one course at a time
While quickly graduating can work well for some students, others get easily overwhelmed taking multiple classes. SNU’s innovative one-class-at-a-time model enables you to focus on a single course. That can mean better grades. It also frees up time to continue working, so you can keep earning a living while you are in school. If you’re concerned about the stress load and time commitment of school, a slower pace might be a more rewarding option over the long-term.
Saving Money on Supplies
School supplies can add up. The typical student pays more than $1,000 for books and supplies each year. A few strategies can help you reduce this expense:
- Ask your school about technology assistance. Many schools offer low-cost laptops.
- Buy books secondhand or buy eBooks online.
- Use supplies you already have. Rather than getting a new desk, try repurposing a table or night stand you don’t use.
- Use your financial aid award to help you buy books and supplies.
Let’s face it. You’re not going to fund school solely by giving up your morning coffee or saving a few extra pennies. College is a significant expense. That doesn’t mean budgeting is useless. To use your money more wisely, you need to know where it goes. Cutting back on some unnecessary expenses can help you save. Consider:
- Reducing or eliminating subscriptions you no longer use.
- Cooking more meals at home.
- Contacting your internet and cable provider to ask about sales.
- Selling the things you no longer use online; the money can quickly add up.
- Buying things secondhand, especially when you’re making unnecessary expenditures, such as presents.
- Using a budget app to help you monitor where your money goes and get expert tips.
- Refinancing any debt you currently have to get a lower interest rate or lower monthly payments. Many credit card companies offer a zero percent introductory interest rate for balance transfers.
SNU knows the power of a college degree. We are committed to making school accessible to everyone who desires a quality education. We can help you compare your funding options and identify a strategy for affording school. To learn more, download our free Financial Aid Guide.