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A college education is a great investment in your future. On average, someone with a bachelor’s degree will make significantly more during their lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma.
If you’re looking for ways to help pay for your education, here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after Jan. 1 as possible. Complete it every year that you’re requesting financial aid, even if you think you won’t qualify for aid. Schools use this information to award some state and campus grants and scholarships too.
Go for free money first. Apply for as many grants and scholarships as you qualify for.
If grants and scholarships don’t fulfill your need, tap into any college savings your family might have.
If you still need to bridge the gap between gift aid (grants and scholarships) and the cost of school, you may need a student loan. Be sure to exhaust all federal loan options before considering “private” or “alternative” loans, which can have higher interest rates and fewer flexible repayment options.
When accepting a student loan, know how much money you’ll actually need to cover your school expenses, which include your basic living expenses for the school term. Many students are offered more loan funds from outside sources than they actually need. Ask a financial aid counselor for more information if you’re considering taking a private student loan in addition to those that have been offered by the financial aid office. Loans must be repaid, so don’t borrow more than necessary.
When it comes to student loans, a good rule of thumb is to make sure your total amount borrowed is less than your expected starting salary, and some experts recommend that the monthly loan payment should be no more than 8 percent of expected monthly income after graduation. Information about average starting salaries in Oklahoma is available at www.oesc.ok.gov, and you can estimate monthly loan payment amounts using the debt/salary calculator at ReadySetRepay.org.
Examine your financial aid needs each semester. If you find yourself struggling to make ends meet or if you have excess student loan money that you didn’t need, adjust your borrowing accordingly.
If given the option to pay the interest accrued on unsubsidized loans while in school, do it! These quarterly payments are usually affordable, even on a tight budget, and can save you hundreds of dollars over the life of your loan.
Remember that this is your money and your future we’re talking about. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you have questions or need more information. Contact your financial aid department or the Department of Education for assistance.