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How Will I be Able to Know if I can Afford the College I am Interested in?

If you’ve started searching for colleges, you might be more than a little concerned about college tuition. Who knew education could cost so much? Before you decide on which school you want to attend for the next four years, you’ll need to know if you can afford the school you’re interested in.

Avoiding Private Loans

If you’ve picked an affordable school, you should be able to pay everything without taking private loans. Don’t just rely on the school’s cost of attendance to determine affordability, though. Take into account any help you’ll be getting from family members, merit and athletic scholarships, and state and federal grants. You’ll get a different financial aid package for each school you apply to, and you might be surprised at how much your package varies from college to college. After grants, scholarships, and other aid, you should be able to cover the rest of your tuition with federal loans. If you still need more help with paying your bill after that, you may want to look for a more affordable school. Private loans tend to have high interest rates, so avoid them if possible.

Monthly Payments

To figure out how much you’ll be paying for your college tuition once you graduate, use a loan calculator. After you have a rough estimate of what your payments will be, see what an average starting salary is for someone with your major or career goals. A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be paying any more than 10% of your income towards your student loans. If your college tuition is going to run you more than that, the school that you’re looking at may not be affordable. Choosing a good college is important, but remember that you’ll only be spending four years there, and you don’t want to start your adult life with too much debt. There are options to lower your monthly payment, but you’ll end up literally paying for it later – you’ll most likely have to extend the term of your loan or agree to pay up once you start making more money.

Make Up the Difference

If you really have your heart set on a school that doesn’t seem affordable, look at alternative ways of funding your education. For instance, if you want to become a teacher, you may be eligible for a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, or TEACH, grant as long as you agree to teach a certain subject in a low-income area. Programs like Americorps or Peace Corps will help you pay back part of your debt if you agree to volunteer with them. If you want to work for a non-profit, you could also qualify for loan forgiveness. You can also pay off some of your college tuition while you’re in school by working part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer.

If you’re interested in a specific college, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s affordable before you commit. You shouldn’t have to take out private loans, and you should be able to afford your monthly payments after you graduate, but if you really feel like a school is meant for you, there are always alternative ways to pay for college tuition besides loans and scholarships.