Paying for college on your own is laughable to some. For others? It’s not only possible but a reality.
College has a price tag that stings.
According to The College Board, the average cost for full-time, in-state students in 2013-14 at public four-year colleges was $8,893. For students at for-profit colleges, it was $15,130. It’s even higher for out-of-state students at public four-year colleges, who paid $22,203, and students at private nonprofit four-year colleges, who paid $30,094. So, no matter where you go, an expensive bill will probably await you, unless you land funding.
Even with numbers like these, some students manage to cover college costs out of pocket, either by themselves or with a little bit of help. The path of paying for college without the help of student loans comes packed with logic and possible consequences.
Reasons to consider paying out of pocket
Derick Gutierrez, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2012, paid for some of his college on his own by working. His mother and grandmother paid for the rest. Now, debt-free and working in his field, he feels very fortunate for the path he was able to take.
“It just seems like the smart thing to do if you are able,” Gutierrez said. “Is it really worth it to take out huge loans to get a BA in criminal justice? I would have had to spend forever paying off my debt.”
According to Lindsay Nelson, a financial consultant in Los Angeles, taking out a high amount of student loan debt to enter a low or mid-range career may not make sense. You have to weigh the costs and benefits before taking out a large sum of student loans, Nelson says.
“I think that working during college is a good way to learn time management,” Nelson said. “As long as the job doesn’t interfere with school, it’s a great way to pay for college and avoid student loans. Graduating with little or no student debt seems to be somewhat of an anomaly these days but it’s the best way to start your post-college life and new career.”
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, either. You can pay some out of pocket and let loans, grants or scholarships cover the rest. With 70% of the class of 2013 walking away with an average of $35,200 in debt (from student loans, credit cards and money owed to family), according to Fidelity, doesn’t the debt-free life sound at least a tad bit nicer?
It can be done.
Possible consequences of paying out of pocket
Working during college to pay the bill can come with consequences, as it did for Gutierrez. Instead of spending less time on schoolwork, he spent less time on sleep.
“Less sleep was a sacrifice I was willing to make,” said Gutierrez, who worked at Starbucks for much of college. “Plus, with free coffee in the morning, three to four hours of sleep each night was plenty.”
Nelson, who worked part-time during college, does think she would’ve received better grades if she didn’t work during college.
“While I would say it did affect my academic performance in a minor way, I would say that was offset by what I gained in becoming well-rounded and learning how to appropriately manage my time,” Nelson said.
Balancing school and work to pay out of pocket can be difficult. Whether your grades take a hit, your social life or your sleep, you have to decide if it’s worth it.
But before reaching into your wallet to pay for school, fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to see if you qualify for grants. It’s free money. And continue to apply for scholarships on sites like scholarships.com to help bring down the total cost. You may also be able to work for a company that offers tuition reimbursement.
Not everyone will be able to pay for college out of pocket. If student loans are the only way to earn the degree you want or need, then, as Nelson reasons, “it’s the only choice to make.” Going into debt can be worth it for a college education if the degree ends up furthering your career or reaping other important benefits for you. Only you can make that decision.
Just make sure to explore your options first, recognizing that paying out of pocket could be an excellent option if you wish to graduate with little or no student loan debt. Imagine starting your new life debt free. It’s possible.
Jon Fortenbury is an Austin-based freelance writer who specializes in higher education. He’s been published all over the place, ranging from the Huffington Post to AOL.com, and is a featured contributor to Schools.com. Follow him on Twitter (@jonwrites).
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I am not eligible for federal funding at this time because of unsatisfactory academic progress. My appeal was denied and I was told I would again be eligible for federal funding after “the satisfactory completion” of 6 non-federally funded credit hours in an semester. I could easily accomplish this if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t have the money to pay for the classes to begin with. — Megan B.
Sections 484(a)(2) and (c) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the regulations at 34 CFR 668.16(e), 34 CFR 668.32(f) and 34 CFR 668.34 require a student to be making satisfactory progress in the course of study the student is pursuing in order to continue receiving federal student aid. This requirement is often referred to as making “satisfactory academic progress” or SAP. The college’s satisfactory academic progress policy must include both qualitative (grade-based) and quantitative (time-related) standards. The qualitative standards require students to maintain at least a C cumulative grade point average or have academic standing consistent with the requirements for graduation. Colleges are permitted to have stricter standards, such as requiring a B average for graduate and professional students. The quantitative standards require students to demonstrate progress toward the degree within a maximum timeframe that is no more than 150% of the normal timeframe for obtaining a degree (e.g., 3 years for a 2-year degree and 6 years for a 4-year degree).
Students who fail to make satisfactory academic progress not only lose eligibility for federal student aid, but may also lose eligibility for institutional and state student aid programs. Most private scholarships also require the student to be making satisfactory academic progress. Some scholarships have stricter standards, such as requiring at least a B.
Colleges may waive the satisfactory academic progress requirements when the failure to make satisfactory academic progress was caused by “undue hardship” based on the death of a relative of the student, the personal injury or illness of the student, or other special circumstances as determined by the college.
Some colleges provide for a “financial aid warning” or “financial aid probation” in their satisfactory academic progress policies. Pending regulatory changes will define these terms and formalize this process starting July 1, 2011.
If a student loses eligibility for federal student aid because of a failure to maintain satisfactory academic progress, the student may regain eligibility for federal student aid by improving his or her academic performance. However, this usually requires the student to pay for at least one semester on his or her own, without the support of federal student aid.
This often leaves students in a Catch-22 situation, where they need federal student aid to help pay for college so that they can improve their academic performance, but they can’t get federal student aid until they improve their academic performance.
Since traditional student financial aid funding is not an option, students who are not making satisfactory academic progress must rely on other sources of money to pay for school. This can include working part-time on or near campus, private student loans, peer-to-peer education loans, money from friends and family, savings and selling personal possessions.
While students who fail to make satisfactory academic progress are ineligible for federal work-study, part-time jobs are often plentiful on or near college campuses. The free Fastweb scholarship matching service integrates information about part-time jobs into the scholarship search results based on distance from the job to the student’s school or home address. Working up to 15 hours a week can help improve grades by forcing the student to learn time management skills. Working a full-time job, on the other hand, is not recommended as it takes too much time away from school and can hurt academic performance.
The Hope Scholarship tax credit, Lifetime Learning tax credit and the Tuition and Fees deduction do not require students to be making satisfactory academic progress.
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