College is expensive. Really, really expensive. And with the economy still struggling, it can be hard to scramble together $30,000 a year — or, likely, more — to pay for it.
But there are ways to save, and get, money while pursuing a bachelor's degree. We ask Shereem Herndon-Brown, a former admissions officer at Georgetown University and current director of Strategic Admissions Advice, for his advice on how to make college more affordable.
Have a plan
One of the best ways to curb college costs is making sure you can finish your degree — or degrees — in four years. “Students need to have direction, a major in mind that suits their interests and their long-term goals,” says Herndon-Brown. “If you go in without a plan, and just take random classes, you can find yourself on a six- or seven-year plan. When students have a clear picture of what they want to do, what suits their personality — that’s a great way to save money.”
Start at a community college
If you don’t know what you want to do, one good way to allow yourself the freedom to explore different possibilities without burning a hole in your pocket is to do some credits close to home, says Herndon-Brown. “Staring at a local community college and going there for two years and then transferring is a good option.”
Look for scholarships in unconventional places
It can be hard to get scholarships. And just because you may not qualify for need-based assistance from the school of your choice, doesn’t mean that you don’t need some help. Fortunately, there are outside organizations that give money — such as churches, community centers and other groups. And, of course, there’s the Internet. “Websites like Fastweb.com and College Xpress are like search engines for scholarships,” says Herndon-Brown. “I also recommend working with a financial aid consultant, who can help match your interests and strengths with appropriate scholarships.”
But he says to start early: “Finding aid is a long and tedious process, so you should start the end of junior year because of how much work is involved.”
Bonus tip for saving after you graduate:
Majoring in liberal arts isn’t necessarily a bad — or money-wasting — decision. But students should be focused on balancing their more scholarly pursuits with tangible real-world skills, like fundamental accounting and economics, basic coding and computer programming, or an in-demand language such as Mandarin. “There’s nothing wrong with studying philosophy or English or the social sciences,” says Herndon-Brown. “But double major or minor in something that’ll make you an asset to the kinds of companies who you want to work for.”