A university degree can be costly, and many students turn to various forms of financing to help them achieve it.
But before you commit to any loans, there are some things you should consider first. Tom Connelly, from Capella University’s Financial Aid Office, offers some advice.
Do your homework.
Yes, you should do your homework on financing options—but what Connelly means here is make sure you know what it is you want to accomplish in the end with your degree. “We see lots of students switching programs halfway through,” he says. “They realize they weren’t getting into a career program they wanted to move into. That’s a costly change because they pretty much have to start over.”
He urges students to do a deep dive with these ideas: What field do you really want to go into? What are you passionate about? Make sure the program you enroll in is the one that will set you up to achieve your ultimate goals.
Explore all financial opportunities.
Don’t assume that a loan is the only option. Check out federal grants, scholarships, and, if you’re working, find out if your employer offers some form of tuition reimbursement. You may be eligible for field-specific grants and scholarships, too.
If you’re an active volunteer for an organization, check to see if they offer academic scholarships as well.
Understand the rules and requirements.
Yes, there are federal financial aid programs—but some come with lifetime limits, which is another reason to be very sure of the program you enter, so you don’t use up some of that financial aid on a program you might not complete.
Also, make sure you understand the conditions of any financial aid. Some programs will require you to maintain a certain number of credits at a time or a certain GPA level.
Define a plan you can stick to.
What’s your monthly budget? What can you truly afford? What might you be willing to sacrifice to make education payments? Do you currently have debt, student loan or otherwise?
Before taking on more debt—even if you don’t have to pay it back right away—take a long hard look at what your payments will be and determine if you can live with it.
Look for other resources.
Besides grants and loans, there may be program features that will help you cut costs. For example, some Capella programs offer resource kits that include all the books needed for a quarter for one flat fee, which may be less expensive than buying the books individually.
Schedule an appointment with the financial aid office at your school.
“Capella has financial aid counseling teams that are available for appointments five days a week,” says Connelly. “They can help you work through options you may not even know exist.”
Capella University’s financial planning checklist provides a step-by-step guide to financing your education.