Should You Go To A College If You Can’t Afford It

We all know the perks a college degree brings — increased employment opportunities, better job stability and satisfaction, higher earning potential, and enhanced social mobility, to name a few.

Unfortunately, before you enjoy all of those, you must pay for college first, which isn’t cheap most of the time.

Refrain from avoiding your top-choice college because of the sticker price.

By top-choice college, I mean a postsecondary institution offering your preferred academic program, facilities to succeed in your educational pursuit, and a campus culture perfect for personal and social growth.

And by sticker price, I mean the cost without factoring financial aid and scholarships in.

It’s generally not a good idea to attend a college whose net price is beyond your budget.

I would suggest considering other colleges and universities whose net price, or total cost of attendance minus gift aid and tax benefits you are eligible for, is within your family’s financial means.

Otherwise, you could be paying off loans for most of your working adult life.

Student Loan Debt: The Burden of Over 60% Bachelor’s Degree Holders

As of this writing, more than 43 million Americans have student loan debt.

They include those with undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as those who failed to complete their college education — yes, dropouts must still pay the money they borrowed for college.

The average undergraduate student borrows $30,000 to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Meanwhile, the average amount of money students owe in total varies according to where they borrowed:

LenderAverage Student Loan Debt
Federal government$37,338 per borrower
Private lenders$54,921 per borrower

More students borrow money from the federal government than private lenders — as a matter of fact, around 92% of all those with student loan debt have federal loan debt.

Believe it or not, many graduate from college with zero student debt.

Of course, while some could be from families whose parents can afford the sticker price, others could be free of any student loan debt for making wise decisions at the start of and throughout their college careers.

is college for you? thinking man

Acceptable Student Debt Amount

Lenders may offer students more money than they need for college.

The maximum amount of money you can borrow depends on your unique circumstances and the lender.

Your federal loan limits will depend on factors such as:

  • Your current year in college
  • Whether or not you are a dependent
  • The type of loan you take out

Considering these things, as an undergraduate student, you can borrow anywhere from $9,500 to $12,500 and a total of $57,500 from the federal government.

Meanwhile, you can borrow more from most private student loan lenders.

You can even borrow the entire cost of attendance in some instances!

However, it doesn’t mean that you should take all that you can take — the goal is to take just what’s necessary to avoid being neck-deep in debt at graduation.

So, what is the acceptable amount of student debt you should take out?

Most financial experts agree that you should avoid taking out educational loans whose total amount is higher than your intended career’s average annual starting salary.

If you are bent on earning a bachelor’s degree, get as many general education courses as you possibly can at a community college so that you only have to enroll in major-related courses at a four-year college.

What to Do to Afford Your Dream College

On average, it takes a person around 20 years to pay off their student debt.

Some take even longer to repay the money they owe the federal government or private lenders — graduate degree holders, for instance, take 45+ years to pay off their student debt!

Indeed, you should keep the amount of money you will borrow to a minimum.

If possible, don’t borrow at all!

Great news: there are ways to make college more affordable so that you don’t have to take out a student loan or take only an amount that you will be able to pay off in the shortest amount of time.

Fill Out the FAFSA

Don’t steer clear of a college just because you can’t afford the published cost of attendance.

Complete and submit the FAFSA form beforehand to determine which types of federal student aid (there are various, including scholarships, grants, and work-study) you are eligible for and how much you can get.

Federal aid can reduce the net cost of college far below the sticker price.

In addition, many private colleges also use the information you put in your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for institutional aid — private schools may have higher sticker prices, but they tend to offer more generous aid awards.

Appeal Your Financial Aid Ward

Not too happy with the figure in your financial aid award letter?

Consider writing the so-called financial aid appeal letter, indicating that you are asking the financial aid office to reconsider its award and why you need more aid money.

Get ready to prepare additional financial documentation and meet with a financial aid advisor.

Check Out Private Scholarships

The federal government and colleges are not the only sources of scholarships.

Many businesses, non-profit organizations, foundations, and even religious groups offer private scholarships awarded based on various things such as academic achievement, leadership, and public service.

You may also try your luck by entering scholarship lotteries or sweepstakes.

Get a Job or Paid Internship

Recent estimates say that about 43% of undergraduate students enrolled full-time have jobs, while as much as up to 81% of those who are enrolled part-time have.

Consider working at a company offering tuition reimbursement.

It will pay a fraction of your tuition or the entire amount, provided that you enroll in a program related to your work or vow to remain working for your employer for a specified number of years after graduation.

You may also consider being an intern — an internship related to your major allows you to apply theoretical knowledge to real-life situations and also enables you to build a professional network.

However, according to PBS News Weekend, around 47% of interns in the US are unpaid.

Take Online Courses

Online courses are generally more affordable than in-person courses.

The average cost per credit hour for online courses is cheaper by almost 114% at public in-state schools and by up to 154% at private non-profit schools, the Education Data Initiative estimates.

Work on an entire college degree program online as possible, but opt for one from an accredited school.

Attend a Community College

Lastly (but not least), go to a community college instead of a four-year institution.

The average cost of attending a public community college per year is $3,439. That’s just 13% of the cost of attendance at a public four-year institution and just 6% at a private four-year school.

Related Post: How Do You Know If A College Isn’t Right For You?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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