College Success Strategies

The average cost of private Catholic college or university is about $30,000 per year. That's a big number! And of course, no one hopes to graduate loaded with debt. If you're looking ahead towards college you may be asking: is private college even an option for me? Is the enormous loan scenario the only way through? Should I even bother applying to the Catholic schools on my list? Here are some practical tidbits that might help you weigh things out as you consider college from a financial perspective:

  • A hard days' work is worth a lot. You can't set aside money you haven't earned. Even if you're busy with sports and extra-curricular activities, it's possible to make thousands of dollars a year working a summer job or even just one day a week during the school year. Teenagers ages 15-17 who only work part-time make an average of $4,923 per year. If you could save just half that amount for four years you'd be putting away nearly $10,000 into your college account! Or set up automated savings so your paycheck will go straight into your savings account where you won't even be tempted to spend it.
  • Get serious about a budget. You can't save money if all you do is spend it! Research shows the average American teen spends $75 per week. That comes to $3600 per year! Try writing down every time you spend money for a while in order to identify unnecessary drains and then make some cuts. For example, you might try packing a lunch instead of eating out. Get creative and plan activities with friends that don't cost a lot. Try thrift shopping or buy off-brand clothing now and then. Once you've decided where you can afford to make a sacrifice or two, set a budge for yourself and be disciplined to truly stick to it. There are so many great budgeting and money tracking apps to help you stay on track with your personal finances.
  • An ESA (Educational Savings Account) will work for you. Even if your parents have not saved much towards college, it's not too late to start putting aside a little each month. An ESA lets you to save as much as $2000 per child each year. It's a tax-free account which can be used on all-things-education, as long as a student spends what's been saved before the age of 30.
  • SAT and ACTs matter. It's easy to get so locked in on athletics or building a well-rounded college resume' you forget to work hard academically. However, there are more academic scholarships than sports scholarships. Have you ever stopped to consider that your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are worth money? Most grants and scholarships are earned on the basis of grades and test scores so it actually "pays" to study hard! If you're not happy with your initial SAT or ACT score, consider studying and retaking it. 57% of the time an SAT/ACT retake will lead to an improved score, which may be just the leap you need to open up bigger scholarship opportunities.
  • Scholarships abound. There's a scholarship out there with your name on it! A quick Google search will lead you to scholarships for those with skills in horticulture, bowling or entomology. There are anti-bullying scholarships, and even a "Stuck at Prom" scholarship for the best prom attire designed from duct tape. The trick is finding scholarships within your niche. Fortunately, there are free scholarship matching sites to help you sort all of it out. It definitely takes time to research and apply for potential scholarships but with $1.7 million available from government and private funding, it's an endeavor that may well be worth it!
  • FAFSA (free application for federal student aid) = free money. Each year, around $3 billion in federal grants (which are essentially gifts that don't need to be repaid) go unclaimed. Students who qualify, based on financial need, can potentially earn up to $4,000 by simply applying. There is a deadline for turning in your FAFSA form--pay attention to the date so you don't miss is. But there's no reason to not apply; you may be glad you did!
  • AP classes and concurrent enrollment options are smart. Your high school likely offers AP classes. Take full advantage! The price of an AP test is about $100. Compare that with the cost of just one credit at a private college ($800 on average) and you'll see why loading up on AP classes is such a wise move. Similarly, concurrent enrollment allows you to enroll in college classes while still in high school. This is another affordable option for getting a jump on your college goals.
  • Look at community college or in-state for one year. This may not be your first choice, but it could still save you money. Living at home for the first year or taking a semester or two at community college isn't for everyone. But if finances are tight, it may be one way to still achieve your dream of graduating from a private college later on.

These are simply a few ideas to get you thinking. Don't let the "sticker price" of private college keep you from making plans. There's a plethora of ways to make money, be thrifty and pay for college without drowning in debt.