Think Cheap for College

by Amber Trzciensky
(New Britain, CT USA)

When I was looking to start my undergraduate career, I didn’t bother looking at big, fancy schools because I knew they’d be expensive. I was told this was a mistake because a fancy name will look good on a resume, but I ignored this advice. Why? Well, I know that a nice university name looks good, but I don’t think you need that as an undergraduate. If you eventually want a Masters or higher, that’s when you can afford to go to a bigger school with an expensive name. You’re more likely to get financial aid because you’ve already shown yourself as a good student willing to do the work. This way you go into grad school with few or no loans. I found a great state school that wasn’t too expensive, and my education isn’t suffering for it. Think cheap for college.


On another note, don’t live on campus all through college. You can save so much money by renting a place off campus with a few reliable friends and cooking your own food. The $5000 that I was paying for room and a meal plan on campus for one semester could pay for all my food and bills for 12 months in the house I’m currently renting with friends. Yes, it might be giving yourself a bit more responsibility, but that’s not a bad thing. It comes with more freedom and you learn important life lessons. You get used to paying bills on time, taking care of your own living space, and you get much better at cooking. It’s no secret that campus food isn’t that great, and trust me, if you live off campus food is cheaper, healthier, and it tastes much better.

If you can, try getting a part time job on campus. It doesn’t have to be anything special, but everything helps and it’ll look good on your resume. If you’re lucky, you might find one that’s connected to your area of study. I got lucky with my science major and have a job cleaning lab equipment for my advisor. Don’t forget, there are often jobs in the cafeteria, library, and athletic centers. Good luck!

Read more College Financial Aid Advice from other students and parents who have been through process.


Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice

Thank you Amber for some good advice to think cheap. College doesn’t have to be too expensive. Some schools like Reed College even have a gourmet food dorm too. Check out some of our pages on ways to save money at college. Good luck to you.



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Fine Tuning Finances

by Beverly
(CT)

It had not occurred to me that my daughter would not get full financing for college until the day I had to face the possibility of paying upwards of $1400/month in order to make her dreams come true. She did receive scholarships and loans, but this only chipped away about half of the $45,000 tuition and board charged by her chosen college.

Sure, I had started a Upromise account when she was in elementary school and I had put her $500 birthday savings into a CD three years prior to this fateful day, but I was dismayed to realize that both combined might not even cover the cost of her textbooks for the first semester.

Was it time to give up; to tell her to work for a few years to earn the needed funds? Of course it wasn’t! I was determined to find a way to stretch my finances to accomplish the impossible.

I began to comb through every bill, every paystub, searching for ways to cut costs and increase my income. I worked to purchase groceries more wisely, keeping an eye on sales and coupons. But more importantly, I investigated less obvious ways to generate capital. My telephone, TV, internet, and wireless bills are combined with one company, so I called them. I asked about the possibility of lowering the cost of my services. There wasn’t a lot of leeway, but indeed, I was able to finish that call with an $8 monthly savings. It was a small victory, but just the beginning of my attempts to raise funds.

Next, I did the unthinkable, looked at the amount of money I was diverting to my 401k. Now, before you lecture me on the importance of saving, you have to realize how desperate I was and am, as my daughter’s future will depend on the choices I make now. Even with my meager salary, decreasing this amount by 3% could bring an additional $1100/yr. into my paycheck.

With that decision made, I began looking at my W4 elections. I was having an additional $25 withheld for federal taxes as a kind of enforced savings program. Changing this choice to 0 additional dollars withheld would add $1300/yr. to my take home pay.

As the deadline for the first payment draws closer, I will continue to investigate creative ways to meet the cost. As a sole wage earner in this family, the challenge is daunting, but I am hopeful that I will not fail. A scholarship would certainly bring me closer to the goal of getting her to college and keeping her there!

Read more College Financial Aid Tips from other students and parents who have been through process.



Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice

Thank you Beverly for sharing ways for fine tuning finances for college. Every bit helps as you’ve shown in your examples. Best of luck to you and your daughter. Check out some of our scholarship ideas below.



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Just say NO to credit!

by Kacy
(New York)

College is a wonderful opportunity to gain knowledge and learn skills to prepare you for the real world. It is an important time for self-discovery. That's something you've heard over and over again. Those words of wisdom enter one ear and immediately flow out of the other ear. I know. So I often give this advice to those off to college: Party hard, Study hard. Whichever comes first but it must be a good balance between the two. But now I have an addendum. Spend smart; Say NO to credit! Do not spend money that you do not have nor earn, yet. I saw so many friends graduating college with a mountain of credit card debt because of the climbing interest rates after the introductory period of 0%. It's dizzying enough to see the bill for your school education loans upon graduation, let alone a credit card balance from your spring breaks (or books)! Especially in this recession that leaves many people without jobs and in tight budgets, one must not fall to the temptation of those plastic cards with the magic magnetic stripe.

This does not mean that you have to eat Ramen noodles every night and stay in your dorm every weekend. When life throws you lemons, you make lemonade. There are plenty of ways to live on a budget. If that's too difficult for you, answer is simple. Get a student job. Check the campus career office or other departments and ask about openings. There are also baby-sitting agencies that would love to hire college students and private tutoring opportunities in your neighborhood. Look through newspaper wanted section for jobs or put up a flyer around town to walk dogs.

You can also earn more money and work less hours with countless scholarships - starting with the ones on this website - available. And there are many people like yourself right now who think that the chances of winning is low and doesn't bother to apply. You can set up google alerts from your gmail account to receive notifications anytime a keyword like scholarship comes up in a new post on the web. With the right amount determination and strategy, you can earn money for tuition or other expenses. Few hours of research and creativity per opportunity, even the smaller scholarships of few hundred dollars can add up to a lump sum.

I know all of the above sound like a lot of work. Well, it is. Nothing is easy and nothing is for free. But it beats pulling your hair out and losing sleep as your credit card balance keeps growing steadily. I know there are wise spenders out there but it only takes one swipe, one big expense to throw you off and in debt that can grow exponentially making you unable to pay it off even with a full time job after graduation. So use the card with great discretion and fear. And again. Party Hard. Study Hard. But most importantly, Spend Smart.

Read more College Financial Aid Advice from other students and parents who have been through process.



Comment from your friendly team at College Financial Aid Advice

Thank you Kacy for reminding students about the danger of credit. It is important to spend smart and reduce your debt. Good luck to you.



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