Students at Mountain View High School in Loveland, Colo., recently had an opportunity to ask questions about college funding options to U.S. Under Secretary of Education Tim Mitchell, Congressman Jared Polis and Colorado State University student Robert Hope.
Here are some of their tips for funding your college education (besides filling out your FAFSA, of course):
Use new college selection tools: CollegeScorecard.ed.gov offers you an assessment tool to compare colleges based on cost, programs and degrees offered, diversity, incomes of graduates, size of school and location. The data used to create the website is drawn from various sources (including the Internal Revenue Service) to provide accurate comparisons.
Worry less about where you went to high school: If you’re concerned about how your high school’s grading system will affect your chance of getting in to a college, know that most colleges are accustomed to different grading systems. “Keep in mind that even with a traditional system, different high schools like to grade on different curves,” Polis says. Colleges are aware of variations in grading, which, he says, is one of the reasons for SAT and ACT testing.
Get a jumpstart on college credits: Collecting college credits while you’re still in high school is an excellent way to speed up college completion and lower overall cost, Mitchell says.
See what your potential college offers: Many universities have their own scholarship programs, so it’s worth inquiring as you narrow your list of choices so they know you’re interested in financial aid and scholarships. Mitchell also encourages students to check private scholarship organizations, many of whom are looking for students with a particular talent or background (see your school counselor for more information).
Focus on completion: Mitchell says that one of the best ways to save money is to get through college quickly. “There’s a natural tendency to think, ‘Well, maybe I can work while I’m going to school,’" he says. "When you go to college, you should have completion foremost in your mind. Completing that degree, completing that program, completing that certificate, and moving on. The most expensive way to get through college is to take a long time doing it. And the most expensive degree is the one you actually never earn.”
Lighten the loan payment load: This year, the Obama administration created a program based on income so that anyone with a direct student loan can limit their payments to 10 percent of their take-home pay, and if at the end of 20 years there’s any balance remaining, that balance is forgiven.
Give back to pay back: Another recent creation in the college-funding and repayment arena includes a public service loan forgiveness program, where college graduates who go into service fields (such as firefighting, policing, teaching and social work) have access to a program where, over a period of years, large portions of your student loan are forgiven as you work in public service.