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Financing a Higher Education, Part II

This week I'd like to talk about what I wish I had done or knew (or what I now wish my students knew) DURING college (or graduate school):

1.  Budget and estimate how much financial aid you will need.  Even though it may seem like "free" money, don't take out more loans than you need.

2.  If you receive more loan money than you need, know that you can immediately pay back the extra.  Loan money can certainly be used for other school expenses (like a computer, supplies, gas money, or living expenses), but if it's not needed, it's in your interest to pay back immediately and reduce the principle right away.

3.  Speaking of paying back principle, make it a goal to begin paying the interest right away, so that it doesn't get added to the principle. If you get in the habit to pay a small amount on a monthly basis (even if it's just $25 a month), you'll shorten the life of your loan and the interest accrued on it!

4. Apply for FAFSA every year.  Sometimes students forget that this is a yearly thing you must do.  I encourage all students to do their FAFSA at the same time that they and their parent's file their taxes.

5.  Don't wait until August to turn in any missing financial aid materials.  Many materials need to go through multiple check points and therefore it can take a few weeks to process.  When turning in materials last minute, students risk not having their financial aid process in time for tuition deadlines.

6. Know the disbursement dates and plan accordingly.  At my school, we do not disburse financial aid until after the tenth day of class.  Therefore, if a student has expenses in early September (like rent or books), they need to make sure they have saved enough money from their summer job to cover those immediate expenses.

7.  Get a job on campus.  Campus positions are often very convenient and allow students to study while working.  Just as my belief that high school students should have a job, I believe college students should as well.  In my experience, having a 10-20 hour a week position helps a student time manage better (besides helping them save money for school expenses and giving them spending money).  When I was in college, I worked for UW-Madison's Union Theater.  It was a great job!  I got to select the shows I wanted to work and could do my homework while the movie played or show was performed. 

8.  Be creative.  My senior year, I went home over January break and didn't work so I had little money in savings upon returning to school.  I didn't want to ask my parents for money for books, so I got creative!  First, I checked out as many of my books from the school's library and those that were available through the public library system. I also made note of any that were available on reserve (meaning they could only be checked out for a few hours or for use in the library).  One of my boyfriend's roommates was also in my program and we shared nearly every class; he, too, had limited funds that semester, so we decided to share all books that we couldn't get from the libraries.  We had a system where I had one set of books from Sunday through Tuesday/Wednesday and then we would swap sets.  It worked fabulously and we ended up only spending about $20 each on books (plus some printing costs when we made copies of readings from reserved books).


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Great advice, Katie! I wish I had done quite a few things differently in college as well. It's awesome you are able to give insight from past experience to your current students.

These are good tips Katie. Thanks for sharing them.

This is great. I wish I had someone come talk to me when I was in school about the payments when I got out of school. Troy and I currently pay enough on student loans monthly that we could afford a very nice vacation home with those payments. Live and learn. However, the alternative is we certainly wouldn't have the jobs we have now if we didn't get those higher degrees. Quite a balance, isn't it?

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