For most families — and, often, students — a college education is a significant investment. Since it is, after all, an investment, it makes sense to treat your college education as such. If you follow some pretty simple guidelines and stay on top of money matters, you can get a better return on what you invest in college.
J. Michael Collins, University of Wisconsin-Extension family and consumer economics specialist and director of the UW-Madison Center for Financial Security, has some tips that he shared with Scholarships.com:
• Avoid potential delays in receiving aid by checking in with a school’s financial aid office. Make sure they have the latest version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA and any other required paperwork for the student.
• Start thinking about applying for scholarships before the tuition bill arrives. Scholarships are available year-round. Obtain information at the school’s financial aid office or at studentaid.ed.gov. Federal loans often have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options. Check those first.
• Borrow only what you need to get through school, but enough to complete a degree in a timely way with the best grades possible. The National Direct Student Loan Data System, www.nslds.ed.gov, can help track federal loans. For private loans, check with the lender.
• Don’t fall into the credit card trap or run up borrowing, says Michelle Tidemann, Fond du Lac County UW-Extension family living educator. Also, don’t assume that picking up extra jobs is a viable way to pay for living expenses, especially if doing so distracts from studies.
• Student discounts abound. Be sure to ask about them on major items such as computers and airline tickets. Local businesses and restaurants may have student discounts, too.
• Take advantage of what’s available for free or reduced-cost on campus. Use the health center, athletic facilities and meal plans. Enjoy free recreational events such as concerts, movies on campus or sporting events.
• Limit out-of-pocket expenses. Those trips to the cofee shop or pizza place can really add up. Reducing the amount spent on fast food also helps contribute to healthy eating habits.
• Keep track of spending. It’s easy to lose focus on what is being spent. Craft a budget and stick to it. Numerous smartphone apps are available to help.
“By staying focused on your money while you’re in school, you will avoid financial pitfalls and be a better student,” says Collins. “Remember you are laying the groundwork for a successful future — financial and otherwise.”