College educations cost money, and depending on your school of choice, it can mean big money. Here's a quick snapshot of college tuition costs for 2010 from government and private college websites:
Average costs for college tuition and fees for private four-year schools are $26,273, public four-year schools are $7,020, and public two-year schools are $2,544. These are yearly costs and are based solely on tuition and fees and does not include room and board expenses. Living expenses can add up to $1500 per month. They are also based on instate tuitions, out of state students can pay an additional 25% on average.
So you can see how quickly college education costs can add up. Figure about $160,000 cost for average for a private college four-year degree (including room and board along with tuition and fees). Many students end up with well over $50,000 of student loan debt upon graduation. Some students end up owing a lot more for student loans if they choose to finance the entire cost.
But there are ways to reduce your college education costs besides loans. The first thing to do is contact the college you choose to attend and go visit their financial aid office. The people there can give you some very specific information on what's available, how you qualify, and how to apply for different financial aid programs. The government has several grant programs that are based on you income (or your parents depending on your age). There are also work related programs that you can apply for that pay you to work at the college.
There are hundreds, if not more, local organizations that also provide scholarships that are based on many criteria besides grades or athletics. Don't just go for the big dollar scholarships, even $200 a semester can help and many have very easy to qualify requirements. Community organizations are a great source for small scholarships that may be small amounts but can add up fast.
Your parent's employers may have programs that range from scholarships to loans at no cost. If you have a job, check with your employer too. Some critical industries (that need specific employee skills) are also a good source of grants and scholarships. Some will even offer part or full time employment while you attend college.
Outside of the college financial aid offices, check with local community and industry organizations to see what they may have to offer in college financial aid. There are many sources from your local VFW to business groups who may offer some kind of program. High School counselors are a good source of information on local sources.
You can also check with colleges that offer online classes at a much lower costs. You can easily work fulltime and access these college classes 24/7 around your schedule. Mix and match according to your abilities and job by taking some onsite classes and some online classes. This method can take a little longer to graduate but will cost much less overall.
The first step is to pick your college and find out exactly what your tuition and fees will be for your choice of degree. The next step is to do a realistic budget on living expenses based on whether you want to live at a dorm or off campus. This will give you a good idea of what your specific costs will be at the college of your choice.
Once you know that the costs will be, start applying and researching every possible source of financial aid other than loans to start with. Don't wait until the last minute, many of these grants and scholarships are first come, first serve and you will need to apply far in advance. And don't get impatient, this is a slow process by nature and takes some dedicated time and effort to be successful.
You can also start out at a Community College or a Public 2 Year college and save quite a bit. You can finish up at whatever 4 year institution you want for your degree. This would also give you a chance to improve your grades if necessary to get into your 4-year college of choice. It would also give you a chance to establish residency for out of state schools and attend as a state resident, which can be a big chunk of money.