Planning For College

College Planning

When Choosing a College, Balance Your Feelings and Your Finances

When deciding where to attend college, there are many things to consider. Some of them, understandably, are purely emotional — going where Mom or Dad went, wanting to cheer for a good football team on fall Saturdays, or traveling far away to really feel like you’re on your own.

There’s nothing wrong with letting your heart help guide you. After all, you’re the one who has to spend the next four (or more) years on that campus. But it’s important not to let emotions override practical considerations about finances when making this big decision.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Staying in State Can Mean Big Savings

For the 2014-15 academic year, tuition and fees at a four-year public college or university for an in-state student ran an average of $9,139, compared with a whopping $22,958 for an out-of-state student, according to the College Board.

Your family’s tax dollars help fund the public colleges and universities in your state. While your heart may be truly set on a school across the country, sticking a little closer to home could pay off for years to come.

Tuition Isn’t the Only Cost

The same College Board report shows that, in 2014-15, room and board at four-year colleges and universities averaged $9,804 — more than your average in-state tuition.

If you’d be paying full price for room and board at your dream school, and could shave some dollars off that price tag by attending a school closer to home or in a more affordable area, it may be worth considering before making your final decision.

Check Out Scholarships, Grants and Loans

Many institutions offer financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants and government-backed student loans. And work-study programs can defray part of your tuition in exchange for taking an on-campus job.

See what’s available from the institutions you’re considering. It’s possible the college or university you’ve had your heart set on will offer you financial aid to make it more affordable. If so, great.

But if not, also consider options that won’t leave you carrying heavy debt in addition to a diploma.

Seek More Advice

From financial advisors to your high-school guidance counselor, there are experts willing and able to help you make decisions about the next step in your education. Bethpage Federal Credit Union offers free financial seminars and one-on-one counseling for members that are looking to learn more about budgeting for college.

Doug Gross, NerdWallet
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