Last week, I asked a group of 8th graders “what comes to mind when I say the word college?” Their responses were varied, but most referred to one thing: money. They were aware that college is expensive, and that qualifying for higher paying jobs after graduation makes it a worthwhile investment. These days, however, students are graduating college and entering a tough job market, often with large student loan debt. Americans currently owe a staggering $904 billion in student loans, which is more than the $679 billion of credit card debt we carry. Now, more than ever, students need to be borrowing wisely. What’s the first step? Educate yourself!
How much is college going to cost me?
Understanding the price tag of your education is going to help you see how much you need to save and prepare. Most colleges are required to offer a net price calculator that can help you estimate the cost of attending their school. Also, Utahfutures.org has information about cost of attendance and even a tool to compare school costs side-by-side (in addition to academics, sports, and lots of other interesting info). Get an idea of how much your education is going to cost, and then you can begin creating your payment plan.
How will I be able to pay for it?
Scholarship and grant money is out there, much of it unclaimed simply because students haven’t taken the time to apply. Many resources exist to help you find the scholarships you are eligible for and assist you with the application process. Utahfutures.org has a search engine for scholarships, as well as other great sites like fastweb.com and zinch.com. Take some time to create a profile and look for scholarships. It could be worth thousands of (free!) dollars.
Think you might need to take out student loans? Remember, the less you borrow the less you have to pay back after graduation. Be aware of the amount you are borrowing vs. how much you expect to earn when you have to start making payments. Not sure how to figure that out? Keep reading.
What size of loan payment can I afford after graduation?
If you can answer the age-old question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” then make sure you can also answer the question of what your salary will be when you graduate and start working in your field. You guessed it; Utahfutures.org has some great tools to help you figure this out! Check out all the wage information on the Occupations page. A middle school teacher in Salt Lake City has an average starting salary of $46,000 while a middle school teacher in Logan can expect around $28,000.
You can also plug in your expected post-graduation income to the interest rate calculator along with your estimated loan amount and find out how much your monthly payments would be upon graduation. The income to student loan payment ratio is going to be distinct for our Salt Lake and Logan school teachers. Try out the calculator; you may be surprised at what you find out.
You will learn a lot, in and out of the lecture hall, during your college career. Make sure financial responsibility is on that list; I promise you’ll never regret it!