Creating a Plan for Financing College

Highlights

  • Creating a financial plan for college expenses is crucial, given the high costs of an education.
  • Be realistic about your needs and wants, then come to a clear estimate of your funding gap.
  • Work as much as you can while leaving enough time to excel in school.
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Let's Talk!: Financial Responsiblity

Hi y’all!  My name is Emily Merrill, and I am a biology and religion student at Baylor University. If getting ready for college has taught me anything, it is how to manage my finances. In this blog series, I hope to be a helpful resource and guide to students making financial decisions and preparing for the financial responsibility of a college education. I am so excited to share important financial health lesson that I have learned with you. So, grab a cup of coffee and find a cozy place to sit, and let’s talk!

Creating a Plan for Financing College

During my freshman year of high school, I began to think about college. My parents stressed that a strong GPA and high standardized test scores could yield thousands of dollars in university scholarships, so I focused hard to maintain good grades and prepare for the ACT. As we began touring colleges my junior year, I saw just how expensive college really was. I set a goal for myself that year: I wanted to graduate from college debt free.

Fast forward a year later, when I received an acceptance letter from my dream school with a stellar academic scholarship offer. I could see that all I had worked so hard for was paying off. Yet, when I crunched the numbers, I realized that my academic scholarships would not be enough to fully pay for my education. I was going to have to work even harder than before if I wanted to graduate debt free.

Financing college was my first lesson in financial responsibility. You, too, may be staring at tuition bills wondering how you will afford your education. While it may seem overwhelming in the moment, following a few simple steps will help you create a financial plan and reduce stress associated with financing college. So, grab a latte, your laptop, and calculator and let’s get started discussing the 3-step financial plan I am using:

  1. Create a financial game plan
  2. Determine your financial gap
  3. Accumulate funds to cover the gap 

Step 1- Create a Financial Game Plan for College Costs.

You are going to need to start budgeting.  Begin by making a list of everything you will be financially responsible for as a college student.  Add up your tuition, room and board, books and personal expenses.  Also add in your projected costs for meal plans, dorm shopping, transportation expenses, and other spending habits. 

For example, if you have a coffee addiction (like I do), it would be beneficial to calculate how much you plan to spend on coffee each month.  This way, you can determine how you are going to finance college caffeine.  Can you afford to fork out $60 a month for white chocolate mochas, or should you invest in a coffee maker to save money in the long run?  Take your time and really think about every possible expense. This will be a helpful resource and guide as you prepare to make purchases and tackle student debt.  If you don't know where to start, use a free budgeting tool like Mint.

Step 2- Determine your Financial Gap.

How will you do this?  Once you create a list of expenses, then it's time to determine what’s already funded.  Do you have a percentage of tuition covered? Are your parents providing you with a spending stipend each month?  Are you able to pay for your dorm decor with graduation money or money you earned from a summer job or set aside in a savings account?  If so, great! 

Now take what is already paid for and subtract it from your total expenses.  Notice what is left over.  This gap is going to look different for each person. If your gap is scary big, this is a good time to look at all your expenses again and see if there any you can eliminate or reduce. Maybe that bean-bag chair for your dorm room can wait till next year?  Regardless of the size of your funding gap, it is up to you to pay for it.  You may be asking yourself the same daunting question I had: “How, exactly, am I going to pay for everything?”

A Little Savings Can Go a Long Way

Measure the impact of reducing your expeneses with the Bills.com Ways to Save calculator.

Step 3- Start Accumulating Funds to Cover the Gap        

This step is, by far, much easier said than done. It would be amazing if money grew on trees, but don’t worry!  There are numerous opportunities for you to start making money to fill your financial gap. Consider the options below. 

  • Talk to your financial aid counselor. He or she may be able to direct you to other university-funded scholarships. Athletic scholarships, major-specific scholarships and departmental scholarships could eliminate a significant amount of what you owe. These scholarships are often renewable year to year if you maintain a certain GPA. 
  • Seek outside funding. You may have to look further than your school for scholarships. Lucky for you, there are THOUSANDS of scholarship opportunities for high school students! Websites like Unigo.com and Fastweb.com are user friendly, and they allow students to browse and enter a variety of independent scholarships. Many banks, law firms, private businesses, and sponsored websites offer scholarship opportunities too.  There are funds available for athletes, artists, musicians, writers, and others!  Search for scholarships tailored to your interests.  For the skeptics in the room, take my advice- this really does pay off. I earned over $11,600 in private scholarships during my senior year alone, including the $2,500 from winning the Bills.com Scholarship, and you can too! If you have a larger gap to fill, this is the way to go.
  • Work part-time (or full-time, if your schedule allows it). Work during the summer to help finance tuition bills or accumulate spending money. Working a holiday job during Christmas break may also help you refill your bank account at semester break. Seek out an on-campus job during the school year. That will save you time communting to work, leaving more time to study. Working as little as ten hours a week could finance your coffee habit, pay for concert tickets or outings, or serve as your gas money (if you have a car on campus). Don't work at the expense of focusing on your course work. Excelling at school is the highest priority. Earning some money can actually improve your ability to focus on studying, as it lessens the stress that comes with financial strain or worry about huge student loans looming  out in the not-to-distant future.

Applying these three steps as you begin preparing for the financial responsibility of college will help you create healthy financial habits and lessen the burden of your personal financial responsibility. You may have to rely on student loans to pay for part of your education. That means that every dollar you can save or earn is that much less you need to borrow and pay interest on. 

In the end, it is up to YOU to take initiative and act to eliminate financial pressures. Create a plan, stay confident, and take it one step at a time.

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