By Jacob Newman, Outreach Officer and Financial Aid Expert – March 2, 2017
The weather is warming up, everyone is dreaming about Spring Break, and colleges are starting to award scholarships and financial aid to their incoming freshman. Many high school seniors and their families worry about how they are going to pay for college. They wonder if they’ll have enough to pay for tuition, books, AND room and board. Students also wonder if one school’s offer is better than another school’s.
Take a deep breath and don’t panic. We’ll teach you how to estimate college costs, how to find the money you need to afford college, and in turn, help you remove any roadblocks on your way to the college education of your dreams.
One of the most useful tools that colleges in Utah offer is the net price calculator, or NPC.
The prices these calculators give aren’t exact, but these estimates will give you a better idea of how much your college education will actually cost. The NPC will ask you for things like your age, where you plan to live during college, how many people are in your parents’ household, etc. After answering these questions, the NPC will give you…
- some estimated costs (tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses),
- some estimated financial aid (like grants, work-study, and student loans),
- and an estimated “net price” (net price is the price of attendance minus financial aid).
But all of these numbers still seem pretty scary! At this point, it’s important to follow these steps…
1. Make sure you submit your FAFSA.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid will let you know if you qualify for grants (money you don’t have to pay back), loans (money you have to pay back), or work-study (work on campus to help pay for college). Be sure to submit your FAFSA every year you’re in college. It’s the only way to apply for federal financial aid.
2. Save now for later costs.
You can work with your family to save money for college costs now by putting money into a traditional savings account, into a Utah Educational Savings Plan, or an Individual Development Account. Remember that saving money often and consistently will help you pay for college costs. More importantly, the more you save now, the less you may have to borrow in student loans later.
3. When the time comes, evaluate your financial aid offers.
After finding and applying for scholarships, you might still need some more help paying for school. Many schools will offer you financial aid packages and scholarships in January or February. Look at how much aid the schools are offering you and then use the NPC to get an idea of how much there is left to pay. The cost of each school (including room and board) will be different and the net price calculator isn’t exact. Depending on the financial aid and scholarships schools offer you, it might actually be cheaper to live on campus than it is to live at home.
One of the biggest costs of college in Utah is housing. Living on campus is a great way to save money if you want to live away from home but don’t want to pay the higher rent payments that come with living off campus. If your parent(s) or guardian(s) live close to the school you want to go to, living at home can help you save a lot of money.
5. Your school wants to help you succeed!
Colleges want students to be able to afford and complete college. The SLCC Promise Program helps some students pay for college when other sources fall short. Many other schools have programs to help students when financial aid and scholarships don’t quite cover the cost of attendance. Also, colleges often have a tuition repayment plan. This plan allows you to pay tuition throughout a semester. If you’re interested in programs like this, contact your school’s financial aid office.
6. When in doubt, reach out.
Everyone at StepUpUtah is here to help. If you’re worried about paying for college, email the experts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jacob Newman is a Community Outreach Officer with Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA) and financial aid expert. Before working with UHEAA, he worked as a the Job Readiness Program Coordinator at the English Skills Learning Center. Jacob graduated with an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Brigham Young University in August 2016. He speaks Thai, Spanish, and American Sign Language. Follow Jacob on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @stepupjacob.