The “traditional” idea is that many students, if not most, go through high school and then plan to go on to college. As a local credit union in Tyler, Texas, Kelly Community Federal Credit Union understands that this is a past model, and today’s educational landscape looks much different.
Today, college is a melting pot of people of all ages and walks of life. Many people are returning to college years after their first degree to pursue a higher degree, or something altogether different. Some are looking for a change in career. Whatever the reason, the idea of the “traditional” college student doesn’t mean what it used to.
Whether you’re a young person straight out of high school, the parent of a potential student, or someone looking to get a college education later in life, you’ll need funding to pay tuition costs. It can be overwhelming going over all the options.
Today, many people don’t have savings to fall back on, or they don’t want to deplete their savings account paying for tuition.
What to do if you didn’t save for college?
As a credit union, we understand how daunting the numbers can be, especially when you’re looking at a more prominent university.
Small public institutions like community colleges can average around $6,000-$14,000 a semester, but private institutions can easily be $35,000 or more per semester. Especially without savings, those numbers can be terrifying.
The good news? There are options available!
First: Start Saving Now!!
The minute you decide that college is for you, or find out that your child wants to attend college, start putting money away. Open a savings account at your local bank or credit union, and make sure that savings account isn’t used for anything else.
Even if you’re only putting in $20 a week, it’s a start. It’s a move to making things happen. You’ll be amazed at how fast your savings add up when you aren’t taking money out. It’s easy to set up a direct deposit, which is a good option for this kind of savings.
Second: Create a Budget
Sit down with your family and go over all of your finances. Lay everything out on the table. Budgets are different for different families. Ask the hard questions, and be honest with yourself and your child.
Too often, these important conversations about money and future finances get pushed aside. Take it from your local credit union, don’t skip this critical step!
Here are some questions to ask:
- What do you need financially?
- Will you need money for tuition? Housing? Books? Required meal plans? Transportation? The daily cost of living?
- What money can you contribute from your savings? Employment? Family members?
- What’s my credit score? It’s a good idea at this stage to take a look at your credit score. Chances are you’ll need loans at some point in the process, so having a sense of your credit score will help.
Once you have all of that information in front of you, it will make things considerably easier to move forward and get a realistic picture of your finances.
Third: Do Your Research
Research colleges and universities. Once you’ve decided on a few options, be sure to have a Plan B and C; there’s always a chance that for whatever reason, your first school of choice might not work out. After you figure out the school choice, then do your research on cost.
- What is the cost of tuition?
- Living expenses costs, like rent?
- How much are books and other necessary supplies?
Go online and fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid Form). These notoriously annoying, but essential documents, are a free application for federal student aid to see how much assistance you or your child are eligible for. Yes, they’re time-consuming, but they’re necessary at most institutions to determine federal student aid/loans. These loans can be an enormous help because they often have lower interest rates than banks and easier payment terms designed for students.
Make appointments online or over the phone with a financial aid officer from the colleges you’re interested in. Each institution may have different loan or financial aid options available, so it’s important to check with all of them. It could be the deciding factor between which college you choose.
Don’t forget to inquire about scholarship options from the various institutions. Scholarships are a fantastic way to help offset the cost of tuition.
Make an appointment with your local credit union or bank and discuss loan options. Especially for educational purposes, many credit unions and financial institutions have low-interest rate loans available.
Credit unions are a popular option, as they’re focused more on serving local families within the community.
Stay Motivated During the Process
Life is full of the unexpected. Plans and goals change. Just because you didn’t create savings for yourself or your child to go to college, does not mean it should not be an option now. Financial aid, low-interest loans, scholarships, and savings can make your college dream a reality.