High school is the best time to financially prepare for college because your proactive actions can save you thousands of dollars. And, applying for scholarships isn’t your only option. It’s never too late to get started, so explore these money-saving opportunities this year.
You can browse scholarship databases like Fastweb that have over 1.5 million listings. And, you should also apply for regional scholarships offered through local civic organizations and employers.
If you already know what schools you want to attend, you can also ask their financial aid office about scholarship opportunities. You may not get a definitive answer on school scholarships until you have been accepted and received your entire financial aid package.
To improve your odds of getting approved, make sure you keep your grades as high as possible.
Take College-Level Courses
You can also earn college credit in high school by taking college-level courses through the Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, and International Baccalaureate programs. Some of the classes you can take include composition, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and foreign language.
These classes have more homework than your typical high school class. That can be a worthy trade off as it means less class time in college and less money in tuition if you pay on a per-credit hour basis.
Consider an Internship
If you are undecided about what academic major you want to pursue in college, high school internships can also be a great way to financially prepare for college. Internships give you an opportunity to explore potential career paths. If you enjoyed the internship, you can consider an applicable major in college. When you don’t enjoy it, you can save yourself
If you enjoyed the internship, you can consider an applicable major in college. When you don’t enjoy it, you know which majors and professions not to pursue and will save yourself the headache of changing majors and having to take extra classes to graduate on-time.
The best of both worlds is that you can find a high school internship that also pays you. If not, find a job at a local establishment and set a portion your paycheck aside for college. This money can be used to buy books or even be applied to tuition expenses when the time comes.
Having a job in high school also gives you the opportunity to manage money while having the privilege of living at home. You have more room for error if you make financial mistakes.
The lessons you learn during your high school years will prepare you for managing money as a college student and as an adult.
Apply for Lesser-Known Schools
While we all would like to have a diploma from notable schools like the University of Virginia, Notre Dame, or UCLA for the name recognition, these schools also cost more money. Consider applying to smaller schools with less name recognition to boost your chances of receiving merit-based aid.
Because there are fewer overall applicants, you have more opportunity to shine if you have good grades, are active in the community, or have high SAT or ACT test scores. Even if two schools might have the same sticker price, your overall cost might be less at a smaller school if you qualify for school aid.
Don’t choose a college just because they have a really good football or basketball team. You can watch these games from almost anywhere and even a cable tv subscription can be cheaper than going to the big-name school.
Compare Graduation Rates
Use the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard to help find the average graduation rate and average annual cost to attend of prospective schools. If a college has a low four-year graduation rate, you might want to avoid this school because it can signify you will need to remain in school for an extra year (more tuition costs) or the campus environment might not be conducive to being academically successful.
College Scorecard can also give you a rough idea of how much financial aid you can expect to receive based on your family’s salary. You can also see the average total student loan debt and average monthly loan payment for recent graduates as well.
Apply for the FAFSA
You won’t complete this step until your senior year. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the main document the Department of Education and college financial aid offices use to calculate your aid package. Even if you don’t plan on taking out any federal student loans, you are required to complete the FAFSA to receive federal Pell grants. Also if you are to receive any additional need-based aid from your state.
Contribute to a 529
Parents can also help pay for college. One of the best ways is by contributing to a 529 plan. These contributions grow tax-free and earn interest because the money is invested in mutual funds. The best part about 529 plans, is that the money can be used for undergraduate or graduate school.
While you get the best return on investment if a 529 plan is funded as a small child, opening a fund in high school can still be beneficial. Opening an account during your freshman year gives you four years of tax-free growth.
If your parents are planning on spending the money for college, the 529 can save some money in taxes.
As a high school student, you might still be figuring out how to make a financial game plan for college. Being open-minded and flexible will make it easier to make financially wise decisions. The more you can do in high school the easier it will be to manage your finances as a college student and a new graduate.