College is a time we experience a lot of firsts in our culture. The first time we live on our own, take care of ourselves, and keep track of our own money. It comes with many new challenges that start from the minute we start applying to schools. However, now more than ever college is the birthplace of another first for many students: debt. Student load debt is at an all high in America, in fact the average student loan debt in 2012 was $25,000 and at the current rate it will only get higher.
As a disclaimer, the value of a college degree is still worth having, even with today’s costs but it’s good to be aware of the costs for this and the next generation. The best thing to do is to only use student loans as a last resort. Research the possibilities for scholarships and financial aid before accumulating loan debt for yourself or your kids.
The best way to start with the loan process is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This form is used to determine your financial need, so you can be certain that you will end up with enough money to complete your education. Many students start by meeting with their school’s financial aid staff, as these staff members help students to fill out this paperwork properly. Financial aid staff can also identify scholarships that might be available before you apply for a loan, so that you do not miss out on any free money that the government or anyone else could be offering.
Once you have filled out your FAFSA form, all you have to do is wait for the government to review your request and identify how much financial aid you require to get yourself through the school year. Most students will out their form online, at which time they are provided with a PIN. This PIN is used to access any Federal Financial Aid documents that you need. You can also use this PIN to access your account information and to see how money financial aid you have been given after your application is reviewed.
Keep in mind that this money will have to be repaid and that you can refuse the money after applying if you choose to do so. The money that you borrow should be used only for the necessities and you should never use it to pay for luxuries while you are at school. To minimize the amount of debt that you take on, try working in your spare time or applying for even more grants and scholarships. In the end, the less debt with which you can graduate, the better off you will be in the years following graduation.
To gain a better understanding of where college costs and debt has come from and where it is going, Consolidated Credit has come up with this below. Look at what each generation’s college costs and what the next generation has to deal with.