Financial Prep for College: A Guide for High Schoolers
October 14, 2020
Financial Prep for College: A Guide for High Schoolers
Planning for college during high school can be both an exciting and rewarding time, but in many cases, the process can be stressful. Whether you’re a freshman going on campus tours and taking SAT prep classes, or a senior sending in your final applications and making the decision of where you want to go to college, prioritizing a plan for each step of the way is vital. One important aspect to focus on during the time you’re planning is your financial prep for college.
With the possibility of student loans on the horizon, as well as other expenses related to college life, you’re going to need to be prepared for these costs. However, by following these tips on financial prep for college, you’ll be able to get your budget ready before your first semester and feel ready to take on the next four years.
Calculate Your Costs
Many expenses accumulate while you’re attending college, so it could be beneficial to calculate the total amount that your school is going to cost you. Ask your parents if they have access to your financial aid, loan, and tuition accounts. You can also talk to your school guidance counselor and have them help you get set up.
There are some major expenses you’ll need to be aware of well in advance of your first semester. The biggest one will be tuition payments. These will be covered by student loans if you aren’t paying out of pocket. Depending on which college you’re planning to go to, these can range from $9,000 a year at a local community college, to $35,000+ at a private university. Whichever school you decide to go to, having an idea of the average tuition is going to be important.
Another factor to consider during financial prep for college is housing. Many universities calculate on-campus housing into their tuition. However, depending on if you’re going to stay on campus, live at home, or rent a place off-campus, your expenses are going to vary. Taking housing costs into consideration can give you a fuller picture of how much college is going to cost you.
Finally, you should also know what you’re going to be spending on day-to-day life while you’re away, such as snacks, social events, and more. By painting a full picture of how much college will cost you, it can give you the incentive to start saving more for college, leaving you better prepared financially in the long run.
Organize Your Finances
Once you have an idea of your expected costs, you can start taking steps to prepare and organize your finances. One thing you should do first is to get familiar with your student loan accounts and information, as well as any scholarships or grants you have. Most of these have online accounts you can get access to once you apply. This will allow you to keep track of your loan and grant balances and stay up to date on any changes.
Before attending college, gain some knowledge of the status of your credit score. While your parents could co-sign on any loans you have, your credit score will remain important in college and after graduation. If you don’t have any credit, talk to your parents, or a financial counselor about getting a secured credit card. You can also look into getting a personal short-term credit-building loan. The longer you build your credit, the better your score will be, so these are great ways to start building your credit at a young age, giving you a head start to a higher credit score.
If you don’t have a checking account to utilize before going to school, look into a safe and reliable option. This will give you a place to start saving money on your own and help you learn financial independence–as well as the opportunity to use a debit card. Along with an expense tracking tool or budgeting calculator, an online bank account can give you the opportunity to manage your money directly from your smartphone while on campus, and without needing to go to a physical bank to update your account or make deposits.
After you’ve calculated your costs and organized your finances, it’s time to work on the budget itself. This process should be about breaking down all of the costs you expect to incur throughout college, divided up by semester. Here’s an example of what your breakdown might look like:
This should give you a rough idea of how much money you’ll need per semester, both in terms of tuition payments, and day-to-day expenses. You can then use this budget to keep yourself from overspending each semester and keep your costs low. To track your budget, you can use spreadsheet software, personal planner, or budgeting app!
Save What You Can
Finally, it’s no secret that college is going to be one of the biggest expenses in your life. Therefore, it’s vital that you begin saving early in order to be ready for it and find ways to reduce costs as much as possible.
If cost is a major concern, one significant way to reduce them is by going to a school in your hometown. This will allow you to commute to class instead of paying for campus dining services and dorms. You can also opt for a local community college, which is often a far lower cost than a four-year state or private school. All of the options have the benefit of greatly reducing the total cost of college, while still giving you access to a great education and credits.
If you do decide to take a different approach that will be a bit of a higher cost, there are some good options available to save money. One way is by applying for grants and scholarships. There are many different ones provided, whether directly through a university or through your high school and other extracurricular programs. Some even offer a full-ride scholarship, depending on things like your GPA, SAT scores, and other factors.
You can also apply for work-study, which will help give you extra money during college. If you don’t qualify for a work-study, finding work off-campus is also an option if you have access to transportation. If you have a summer job, consider putting some of that extra cash away into your savings account to go towards your college fund. Getting an early start on saving is going to be a good way to be financially ready for your first semester.
While your undergrad is going to be costly, there are a lot of great ways to financially prep for college while still in high school. By getting a head start and learning some financial management skills early, you’ll be ready to take on university with confidence, and reduce the financial stress associated with student loans and other costs.