By Allison Van Horn
Listen up, kids. If there were ever a time for you to put those reading skills to use, it’s now. If you want to go to college, you’ve got to get one thing straight: it’s expensive. Like, forfeit-that-house-you- planned-on-purchasing-in-your- early-thirties expensive. And even those of you out there, who are doomed to believe you can afford the price of a four-year post-high school education simply because your parents have been saving since your birth, even you have reason to fret. So listen up, and listen good, because I’m about to let you all in on some insider intel, and you’re gonna want to remember it.
If you’re a pretty hard-working kid who seems predestined for some academic scholarships or a superstar athlete with a killer 50 freestyle time, then you may have been lead to believe that all of that college scholarship money is already within your grasp. Well, you thought wrong. Depending on which colleges you plan on applying to (some do actually offer good merit and athletic aid), chances are you won’t receive financial assistance, or at least to the degree that you need. College is expensive folks, and there’s a reason why universities charge so much: because people will pay.
Okay, so if you want to be able to afford college, here’s where you need to start paying attention. Start applying for scholarships. Now. I don’t care whether you’re a first grader in elementary school or a high school senior only a month away from graduating. Just. Apply. If you want to graduate from college debt free (which means not paying off students loans into your mid-forties), then you’re going to want to apply for as many scholarships as possible. Look everywhere for these hidden gems—in the local library, at your parents’ workplaces, at school (the College and Career Center, specifically)… everywhere.
To beef up those scholarship and college applications, you’re going to want to do a ton of clubs and activities, gaining leadership positions in most of them. Maybe start your own company, or open a non-profit. College admissions and scholarship committees look to award students with a track record of success, so if you have a superb resumé to flaunt, that’s perfect. And if you manage to secure a job or two, don’t go dumping all of that newly earned cash on food—save it. Save some of it for college, some for retirement… Something that will benefit you in the future. You could even look into investing in some stocks—if you’re brave enough.
Another piece of advice: unless you’re loaded (in which case, why are you even reading this?), tuition at out-of-state and private colleges is crazy expensive. At those colleges, you’re looking at anywhere from $240,000 to $304,000 for your college education, and that’s if you can graduate in four years. At competitive colleges, you’re probably looking at closer to graduating in 5 years, which means forking over an additional $60,000-$76,000 from your nearly-to-completely empty savings account. So if you do want to afford college, try aiming a little lower, especially if you’re some sort of stellar student/athlete. Look at staying in-state or applying to private universities with higher acceptance rates (around 40-60% acceptance). Those institutions are probably your best shot at scholarships, and especially at the holy grail of aid packages: the full-ride.
If you’ve stuck with me through this entire article, then you’re truly dedicated to graduating debt free (or with minimal debt), which is important if you plan on attending grad school. These days, most high-paying jobs require a master’s degree for their potential employees, so graduate school (which means another 1-5 years of college tuition) is likely in your future anyway. Better to avoid racking up those debt dollars while pursuing your undergraduate degree so you don’t have to pay off as much debt once you’ve completed your entire college education. Or, you can always go the community college route and transfer to a university for your junior year. That’s a real money-saver.
Please, don’t be disappointed at your college prospects because of my negative outlook at college prices. I just wanted you all to gain the insight that I wish I’d had prior to my senior year. If you truly are a stellar student, then you might have a shot at some scholarships from those top-tier schools. Just make sure to stay on top of deadlines, as those scholarships usually require you to submit your college applications by December 1st, if not sooner. Do plenty of research on colleges before you apply, start early on all of your applications (at least three months in advance), and secure a minimum of three adults who could write you a solid letter of recommendation. So, as the days of your high school career evaporate one by one, do just one thing: apply for scholarships!
College is expensive, y’all. Photo courtesy of Behind the Ellipsis.