2 Apply for scholarships beyond the first year Scholarships aren’t available for students in their first year only; returning students can also apply for this aid. In addition to filling out the FAFSA each year, you may find scholarships through your school’s financial aid office, community organizations or local businesses, as well as scholarship databases like the Department of Labor’s Scholarship Finder tool. Check out NerdWallet’s guide on how to get a scholarship if you aren’t sure where to start. “Ideally, you’ll get a scholarship that’s renewable each year, but in lieu of those needle-in-a- haystack scholarships, there are always new opportunities to find free money for college,” Helhoski says.
Work part-time to help cover school expenses For most full-time students, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to cover tuition and living expenses by working a part-time job, according to a NerdWallet analysis on college costs and wage growth. But those who can balance a full class schedule with part-time work may be able to reduce their student loan needs. Submitting the FAFSA can help you qualify for work-study aid, which is a federal- or state- funded program that helps students with financial need obtain part-time work. Of course, if you don’t receive work-study aid, you can look for a part-time job on your own that’s flexible enough to accommodate your class schedule and study time. Borrow only what’s necessary If you’re offered more federal student loans than you need to pay college costs, you may be tempted to accept this extra aid. (While you can’t be awarded aid that exceeds your school’s cost of attendance, those with a part-time job or financial help from family might not actually need the full amount offered.) After all, college students are notoriously strapped for cash. But it’s best to accept only the loans you need to minimize the amount you’ll have to pay back later. Not quite sure how much you’ll need? Your college should have a net price calculator on its website to estimate attendance costs. If you need to take out additional student loans to cover living expenses, try to minimize this amount by setting a budget. “It can be easy to overestimate what you’ll reasonably be able to repay each month after college,” Helhoski says. “Do your future self a favor and be realistic about what will be affordable for you post-grad.” To determine what a manageable college debt load looks like, aim for student loan payments that don’t exceed 10% of your projected after-tax monthly income your first year out of school. For example, someone earning $50,000 a year, shouldn’t pay more than $279 a month toward student debt. You can estimate future salaries using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.
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