by Benjamin J. Koval, president and founder of SoundPath Retirement Strategies
Many professions consider a college education to be a vital step toward establishing a career. A survey of 500 professional recruiters showed all of them look for candidates with a college degree.
But while the average graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns $1.2 million more over their lifetime than a person with only a high school diploma, many young people sacrifice this potential income due to the continually rising cost of a college education.
Despite escalating costs, good financial planning helps many families put their children on a solid path to a four-year degree.
Planning for college expenses well in advance helps reduce stress, especially when it comes to external factors, such as hikes in tuition or student loan interest rates. But though many families would like to see their kids go to college, many don’t have a plan on how to pay for it.
Largely as a result, many young adults are saddled with enormous college loan debt. Others who would benefit greatly from college but can’t afford it don’t go, avoiding the debt but missing out on perhaps a life-changing opportunity. The idea of paying for a college education can seem daunting, but there are options to help pay for it. Unfortunately, many people aren’t taking advantage of those options.
Here are some tips on saving and funding for college:
1. Start a Section 529 plan.
These plans are a solid savings option since they are not taxable as long as the money is used for college-related expenses. Ideally you set up a 529 savings plan when your kids are little. It’s an investment plan that matures over the lifetime of the plan. Initially, the investments take prudent risks in order to multiply faster, then move to more conservative options as the student nears college age.
2. Get college credits while in high school.
Many U.S. high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) and dual-enrollment classes. By taking these higher-level courses while still in high school, students can be awarded college credits early. AP classes are generally more difficult classes targeting specific areas of study within a subject. Colleges may award credits based on scores that would be evident of the student mastering the material.
Dual-enrollment classes function as a partnership between high schools and colleges. A dual-enrollment class holds high school students to the college-level standard and curriculum. Both types of classes can save students and parents valuable time and money in their pursuit of higher education.
3. Familiarize yourself with the aid process.
Students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which uses their information to determine how much financial aid they might qualify for, including money from grants or state-funded assistance. It also can determine how much a student could qualify for in loans if they become necessary.
There are many types of student aid, and amounts can vary based on many factors. Besides scholarships based on academic or athletic performance, students can also look into Pell Grants or privately funded scholarships awarded by foundations, religious groups or other organizations based on need or merit.
4. Consider the community college route.
Community colleges are a good option for students who don’t receive much aid from family or scholarship opportunities. The average cost per credit hour at a two-year community college is less than half the average cost at a four-year university. And after two years at a community college, students can usually transfer their credits to a four-year university to finish a four-year degree.
The shock of paying for college won’t be so severe if families begin planning well in advance. When you plan earlier you have less stress and more money to put into education and your child’s future.
Benjamin J. Koval is president and founder of SoundPath Retirement Strategies. He is an MBA, a Certified Financial Planner™, and an Investment Advisor Representative (IAR) holding a Series 65 license. Koval is also a Washington state-licensed life insurance producer. He earned his MBA and BS in business administration from the University of Nevada, Reno.