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College Financing

If you are about to graduate high school and think college is too expensive, you should think again. You may not have a lot of family support or even the support of your friends, but you can find college financing, and you should.

Why You Need to Go to College

High school graduates have a hard time finding work outside of manufacturing and service industries. Jobs that require a college degree like nursing, hi-tech manufacturing and Internet technology pay much better wages. If you want to earn a decent living in America five years from now, you can‘t afford not to go to college.

According to SallieMae.com, "College graduates earn substantially more — on average $1.5 million more over the course of their careers — and have less unemployment than high school graduates." That means the average career span of 50 years will be worth about $30,000 per year more to you. High School graduates have to work two or three jobs to make as much extra money, assuming they can find that much work!

Where to Get Financing

Most students can get financing through federal and state grants. Scholarships often come to mind first, but less than 2% of all student aid comes from such sources. About 40% of student aid comes from grants, meaning that 58% of college students take out loans to finance college. Chances are you will use a combination of grants and loans.

College Grants

Of course, grants are the ideal way to get college financing because it’s free money. But only the poorest students with the best GPA will get much of that money. It can never hurt to apply for grant money, but you must get your applications in early because the first qualifiers to apply are the first to get the money.

You should ask your guidance counselor and college admissions office about each of the four main sources of grant money as soon as possible:

• Federal Pell Grants
• Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants
• State grants
• Institutional grants

You should pay special attention to grants now being offered by many Ivy League schools. If your grades will get you in, it’s likely the school can offer you a grant that will let you pay as little as no tuition to just 10 percent. Many families making less than $120,000 will be able to send their child to a top-notch college without creating serious financial debt. It might actually be cheaper to go to Harvard than your local community college under the right conditions!

College Loans

Because most college financing comes from loans, the subject needs special attention. For first year students, there are only two choices. Either your parents take out a loan on your behalf or you take a loan yourself. However, your family decides to finance your education, it’s always best to try for federal loans first. These programs are financed through private institutions but federally regulated to have lower interest rates and to afford college financing for all costs not covered through grants.

College loans are almost as difficult to navigate as grants. You should take the time to learn about federal loans. If you have the help of your parents, you have three main options:

Perkins Loan

Intended for the neediest students, a Perkins loan is administered through your school and funded by both the school and the US Department of Education. The school determines which students need the money most and disperses cash payments directly to students or applies it toward tuition costs. The interest rate on a Perkins loan is only 5% and there are no fees. This loan also offers a longer grace period than other loans.

Stafford Loan

A federal Stafford loans is a fixed-rate, loan with low interest rates, offered to students enrolled at least half time in a participating school. To complicate matters, Stafford loans can be subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized Stafford loans are for the neediest students. No interest accrues while the student is enrolled in classes. Payment is can be deferred with a six-month grace period before repayment is due. Unsubsidized Stafford loans are available for most students. Interest continues to accrue while the student is enrolled and payments are not deferred.

Parent PLUS Loan

The government also sponsors a third type of loan to ensure that all college costs can be paid. Called the Parent PLUS loan, this third type of loan offers interest rates of 8.5% and offers deferred payments. There is a 3% origination fee.

Private Loans

Students without parental support only have the Perkins and Stafford loans available from the federal government. That means any remaining college financing will have to come from private loans, sometimes called alternative student loans or personal student loans. SallieMae.com suggests you only use a private loan when necessary.

"You should only use private student loans as supplemental funding after you have exhausted all other sources of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, Work-Study, and federal student loans. As with any student loan, be conservative and only borrow what you absolutely need."

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