OK, you've been accepted (congrats!), but what now? Trying to decipher the daunting details of how to pay for college can be overwhelming. Take a deep breath and keep reading, because help is on the way!
1. Check your university's scholarships (and local ones, too). You've heard it before, but it's worth saying again and again. College Planning Servicesestimates more than $46 billion is awarded to students each year from the Department of Education and colleges alone. That doesn't include scholarships from private companies or local groups -- that accounts for an additional $36 million.
2. FAFSA: Federal student aid often comes with lower fixed interest rates than private loans. According to the U .S. Department of Education, more than $150 billion is awarded in grants, loans and work-study opportunities to students.
3. Budget. Budget. Budget. Between tuition, text books and living expenses, the bills can add up quickly. As an incoming freshman, it's much easier to create a plan of attack instead of crawling out of a mountain of credit card debt. Tip: Only spend what you can afford... not the amount listed as your credit card limit. Consider investing in a budgeting tool that will help track your money, plan for post-grad expenses and alert if you've gone over your set budget for groceries, etc. Check out these calculators to get started: Mint, 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy and the Federal Student Aid.
4. Scope out the loans and weigh the pros and cons of each one (public and private). Ultimately the loan you pick has to be an amount and payment plan that you're comfortable with BEFORE taking the plunge. According to Sallie Mae, private loans are offered by private lenders (like a bank or credit union) while public loans are through the federal government. Once you've graduated college, the student loan payments can hit you like a ton of bricks if you aren't prepared.
5. Military tuition assistance program: If you're considering enlisting or already served, there are a number of scholarships and ways to cut the cost of college for all military branches. Not sure where to start? Check out this guide.
6. Most importantly -- weigh all your options! Let's be real: College is expensive, but it's not the ONLY option. From entering the workforce immediately to trade school, there is more than one post-grad option. Our advice? Just make sure it's something you're passionate about!