How to Prepare for College Financially

Getting ready financially for college is a massive undertaking for many students. However, there are many things you can do while you are still attending high school (and even junior high) that can help prepare your wallet for the challenges ahead.

Included in this article are some of the more conventional tips for financing your higher education, as well as some you might not have considered. As you read through our suggestions, make a note of the ones that seem most pertinent to you. You might even want to print them out and highlight some of the more relevant ones to share with your parents or guidance counselor. That way, everyone can get on the same page about how to plan for the expenses of college.

Conventional Methods to Finance Your College Education

In this section, let’s start with the more traditional methods of paying for college for those just looking into the financing process.

Student Loans and Federal Financial Aid

Federal financial aid loans offer lower interest rates and are typically a cheaper option than a private loan. There are lots of options when it comes to financial aid, such as income-based payment plans, the chance to waive interest fees while you are attending school, and even loan forgiveness opportunities. To learn more about how it all works, take a look at our article on Understanding Financial Aid.

Enlist Your Parents

Don’t wait until senior year to start thinking about how you’re going to pay for college. Talk to your parents now about any preparations they have made for your college education. Not all parents have looked into how they will finance their child’s education. There can be many reasons for this. Incomes and needs will vary from family to family, and preparations for higher education may be less of a priority than day-to-day finances in many instances.

Whatever your circumstances, having a heart-to-heart conversation with your parents about your desire to attend college is a good start. They will likely be happy to help you map out a plan that will work for everyone.

Advanced Classes

One of the best ways to start planning on how to afford college is to consider taking some advanced classes. Why? The main reason is that in some courses you will accrue college credits. If you are attending a public high school, that means they will come at no charge to you. This can amount to significant savings as you will not have to pay for the same courses in college.

Take Control of Your Coursework

It is important to note that the requirements for graduation at your high school can differ a great deal from what admissions officers like to see. Many students assume they are being placed in classes that will prepare them to move on to higher education, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Large high schools that are short-staffed don’t have the time to ensure each student is adequately prepared for going on to college—they are concerned about their students graduating. Therefore, you must be proactive about this step and create a four-year plan with your school to ensure you take the classes you need for college admission.

Of course, there are other reasons to take classes that are challenging for you academically. Most colleges like to see applicants who have taken at least three to four years of math, English, social studies (including economics, history, and geography), and science. They also prefer students who have studied a foreign language. If you are in doubt about which courses to take, the Department of Education has a chart with its recommendations for college-bound students.

AP and Honors Classes

AP (Advanced Placement) coursework is challenging but can benefit you financially in the long run. Many colleges award scholarships and grants more readily to students who have taken advanced coursework. Not only does it look great on your admissions applications, but it shows initiative and a hunger for learning that many applicants don’t have.

You will want to be sure, however, that if you decide to take AP classes, you have the time and motivation to do so. Most colleges will expect high grades in any advanced placement classes you choose, and poor grades can significantly lower your overall GPA, canceling out the benefits of pushing yourself to the limit. Therefore, only commit to what you can reasonably handle.

Honors classes differ in that they do not count toward college credits and are typically not as rigorous. However, some college admissions professionals still look favorably on good grades in honors classes, and you may be able to secure scholarship funding with excellent performance.

Colleges Know What Classes Are Offered at Your High School

It should be a relief to know that the classes your high school offers are no secret to admissions officers. In most cases, your application will be evaluated based on the opportunities presented to you at your school. Rest assured that you will not be penalized for not taking challenging classes that were not offered as part of your high-school curriculum.

If your school does not offer the advanced coursework you want to engage in; you might be able to find a local community college or an online program that will afford you this opportunity.

The critical thing to remember is that scholarship money is awarded to students who challenge themselves academically and perform the best that they can. Many students have family responsibilities and jobs that prohibit them from realistically engaging in the rigors of AP and honors courses and performing poorly in advanced coursework looks worse than not taking it at all.

Schedule Regular Meetings With Your Guidance Counselor

If you want to enroll in honors or advance placement courses, your counselor can advise you on how to proceed. However, don’t forget that the services of your counselor are there for you to utilize—free of charge. It is rare after finishing high school that you will have the opportunity to tap into the resources of a counselor who has been paid to look after your interests, so take full advantage of this opportunity.

Many people go through high school without ever understanding the purpose of their guidance counselor. Nevertheless, this trained professional is there to help you navigate your coursework, make long-range goals, and help you plan for your future. They can also be some of the most valuable resources when it comes to learning about the scholarships and grant opportunities that might be available to help pay for college. Contact them early and often!

Don’t Forget Your Teachers

Teachers are super-busy people, but the best of them will make time for students who show initiative. Get to know your teachers and spend some time talking to them. There is something to be said for being the teacher’s pet, and there is nothing wrong with developing a lasting bond with people who are responsible for your education.

Teachers have years of both good and bad experiences with students and can offer a perspective that others cannot. They can be some of your best allies in learning what resources are available to you and may even be aware of financial solutions to paying for college that you had not considered. Additionally, a favorable relationship with your instructor can help you when it comes time to request letters of recommendation.

Do Your Best, but Ask for Help

While you might not be able to swing AP or honors classes, your overall grades in school are going to be something admissions officers look at heavily. If you are doing your level best, and still are having difficulty, learn some new study tips and time management skills to help you be more successful. Many people struggle with school. How you manage those struggles is something those who award scholarships will look at.

Never be afraid to ask for help from your teachers, peers, parents, and other adults in your life. If you are having trouble with a particular subject, most people will be delighted and flattered that you approached them for advice. Believe it or not, the world is full of kind and generous people that want to help you succeed. The only barrier between you and this wellspring of assistance is your self-esteem.

Would you help someone in similar circumstances? Of course, you would. You would likely feel honored to be asked. That’s how nearly everyone else feels too, so ask away!

Apply for Scholarships Early and Often

It may seem obvious, but those scholarships you want are not going to apply for themselves. You will need to overcome any procrastination you feel and rise to the task if you wish to use scholarships to help pay for your college education. It would be unfortunate indeed to miss out on some generous funding because you missed the deadline for an application.

Scholarships offer a way for you to help pay for school that does not need to be paid back, and there are as many scholarships available as there are interests and hobbies. It’s easy to start researching what is available at sites like the US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Site. However, you might be surprised that beyond the traditional scholarship opportunities, there are scores of “niche” scholarships that may apply to your situation as well.

Are you interested in a career in the potato industry? There’s a scholarship for that. Are you a die-hard Star Trek fan? Yep, there is one for that too. Perhaps your dream career is to be a stand-up comedian. The Make Me Laugh Scholarship might help pay for some of your expenses as well.

The fact is that there is a ton of free money available to help finance your college education, and it’s free for the picking for those willing to put in some research. Although it might seem like there is too much competition, someone has to win and it might as well be you. If you have a terrific GPA, you should definitely try for academic scholarships, but don’t leave off some of the more unique opportunities that exist.

Don’t Forget to Search Locally for Scholarships

Local scholarships are a great way to help pay for school. Scholarship providers like to see people from their community succeed, and so they often offer local scholarships available only to residents of a particular geographic region. Since the number of students who qualify is limited based on location, the chances of winning local awards are often higher than the odds of winning national scholarships. This can make local scholarships an attractive and easy option for funding your education.

Because these opportunities are location-based, they can offer a better chance of winning and solidify essential relationships in your town or city. It can be a bit harder to track these down as not all of them are publicized online. If you want to check on what scholarships might be available in your community, check into some of these resources:

Your Local Chamber of Commerce

The Town Librarian

Clerks at the Town Office

Local Businesses

Churches and Religious Organizations

Paid Employment

At one time, it was commonplace for students to hold down a job during high school—often working each summer or in the evenings to save money for college and other pursuits. As the coursework in high school has become more demanding, this has become less customary. However, it is still an excellent idea to pursue.

Not only will this strategy help you save some extra cash for college, but it can also look favorable on your applications. Admissions personnel are particularly interested in helping students who are financially vested in their own educational pursuits. Paid employment shows commitment, motivation, and responsibility that many other candidates won’t be able to list on their applications. Plus, the skills you will gain from working a real job will help you succeed at college in ways you could never imagine.

Unconventional Methods to Pay for College

At the beginning of this article, we promised to talk about some unconventional methods to afford college. For those who are tech-savvy and have a penchant for multitasking, there are a variety of ways to earn extra cash that can really add up. While these methods are not going to rake in huge money, college-bound students might be surprised at what they can earn by completing easy tasks through simple apps on their smartphones.

Here is a rundown of three of the most popular apps you can use to add a little more to your piggy bank:

Get Paid to Lose Weight

While this opportunity sounds a little too good to be true, it is actually a thing. If one of your personal goals is to lose a few pounds, you would be well served to check out Healthy wage. Participants bet a dollar amount that they will lose a specified amount of weight within a dedicated time frame. If they meet their goal, they win some cash. It’s that simple. Prizes range from a few hundred dollars to up to ten grand. Not too shabby for doing something you wanted to anyhow.

Walk The Doggos

Do you love puppers? Would you like to get paid to spend a little time with some furry friends? Rover might be perfect for you. You can get paid to pet-sit and walk other people’s pooches while earning up to $1000 a month. Simply create a profile and wait for approval. Once you are on board, you can set your own schedule. How cool is that?

Micro-Tasking With Amazon

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTURK) platform offers users the opportunity to complete a variety of micro-tasks whenever and wherever they have the time. Each task is called a HIT and the pay can range from a few cents to a few dollars. The key with this app is to find a niche you excel at.  Then, complete HITs whenever you have some free time. You choose the tasks you want to complete and when you want to complete them. So, whether you are waiting for the bus, in line at a store, or just killing some time, you can make a few bucks.

In this scenario, your free time becomes valuable to you. If you become proficient at a particular task, it may take only two or three minutes to complete. And while each task may only add 25 cents to your account, those quarters add up.

Final Thoughts

Financing your college education may be challenging, but you now have a whole list of ways to make it happen. A positive and determined attitude can go a long way toward helping you reach your goals. There is a wealth of resources available to help those who are willing to put the time and effort into making their dreams a reality.