Tips for Grads: Planning for College Tuition

Authored By: Community Financial Credit Union on 1/11/2022

With January comes the second half of the school year and, for upperclassmen, the impending excitement (and dread) of college right around the corner. While there are many amazing things to look forward to when graduating high school, the looming worry about college tuition is there for the majority of graduates. If you’re part of the nearly 60% of Americans worried about having enough money to pay for college or trade school, you’re not alone. And while it may seem daunting—we’re here to help!

Focus on Positives

First thing is first. You’re graduating! Take a moment to celebrate this educational victory and really look back at your time in high school. You never quite realize how quickly it flies by until you’re staring graduation in the face. And while money is a major concern, it’s important to take stock in the fact that you’re not only graduating, but have your sights set on college or another after-grade-school program such as a trade school. Your ambition, intelligence, and drive are all things that need to be commended. Great job!

Get Realistic About Costs

The second thing you need to do is sit down and have a realistic expectation of college costs, even if they seem overwhelming. This isn’t an insurmountable goal, even if it seems like it. You may just need to work a bit harder if your savings aren’t where they need to be. The College Board maintains an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) calculator, which allows you to enter information such as income, savings, and the number of people in your household. At the end, this calculator will show you a dollar amount of how much the federal government expects you to pay for college—much like a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application. This number is a good target for how much you will have to come up with each year. Once you have a good understanding of realistic costs, it’s time to start planning.

Choose Flexible Schools

If you haven’t chosen a school yet, this is a perfect time to apply to and visit a few schools that make sense for you. Here’s a little-known secret in the world of colleges: the quality of education at most non-Ivy League schools is the same. What’s truly different is the environment. With this in mind, ask yourself a few questions. Where would you feel most comfortable: a small liberal arts school, a big state school, a low-cost community college close to home, or a dedicated trade school? Depending on your answer, your tuition costs will end up being different.

When choosing a school, it’s important to take into account the environment where you will learn the best, not just the fancy name on your diploma. In fact, many of the non-Ivy schools offer extensive grants, scholarships, and work-study offers that allow students to attend school for little to no cost! Community college may also be an attractive option due to significantly discounted tuitions for locals and high-scoring students on the ACT or SAT. These institutions offer the same general education courses for a fraction of the price, along with allowing more flexibility for working part-time jobs while attending school.

Take a Look at Loans

If you have nothing saved for college, the reality is that you will likely have to borrow at least something from somewhere. The federal government sets a cap on how much they will lend to students based on the EFC (estimated family contribution).

When looking for student loan options, do your research. Find a competitive loan rate that doesn’t vary if you want to avoid yearly hikes in interest rates. Also, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to borrow the highest amount you’re eligible for. For example, a debt of $19,000 is better than $20,000, especially including interest rates. Every dollar not borrowed is compounded by the absence of interest on the other side.

To talk to a representative about Private Student Loan options, visit or reach out to our team at (877) 937-2328.

Consider Non-Traditional Options

There’s no rule that says every 18-year-old has to graduate high school and then immediately enroll in college. In fact, in most other countries, the so-called “gap year” is quite common. Students use this time to work at part-time jobs, volunteer, and build their resumes. The difference between a 23-year-old college graduate and a 22-year-old college graduate is negligible in the long-term, so it’s important to make the best decision for you. A student working and saving for a whole year could save $10,000 or more for college, earning enough to defer the cost of tuition or help ease the financial burden. Plus, building a resume will make it much easier to find work on the other side of graduation.

Having no or low college savings does set you behind in the education race, but there are many alternative options. From low-cost schools to scholarships, work-programs, private school loans, and more, college tuition isn’t as cut-and-dry as it used to be. Take a look at your options creatively and work with your school counselors to find the best decision for you. You got this!


Your Turn:  How are you saving for college tuition and education costs? Share your ideas with us in the comments!

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