Misconceptions about paying for college

Paying for college is no small task, especially when you are misinformed about options available. Below I address some common misconceptions about financing college and give the reality of the situation.

Myth 1: FAFSA will cover the total cost of college.

Truth: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form students fill out to receive financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education. The amount of federal aid is based on a dependent student’s parent’s income. This does not take into account any mortgage, insurance, support for other children, or any other household bills parents pay. Parents basically would have to live below the government regulated poverty line for their student to receive sufficient aid to cover college costs. While FAFSA, Pell grants, work-study programs, and other government aid do help to pay for school it will not cover the total amount to attend college. Students will need additional resources to help pay tuition, room and board, books, insurance plans, and personal needs.

Myth 2: Taking courses at a community college is a waste of money.

Truth: Community colleges, sometimes referred to as junior colleges, provide affordable alternatives for taking core college courses. The tuition for an in-state student attending Houston Community College with 12 semester hours is $685.20. If that same student attends theUniversity of Houston with the same amount of hours he or she will pay a little over $2,559 depending on his or her major and if weekend core classes are taken. Many high school students look at community college as joke because a common belief is that your first two years attending community college is like repeating your junior and senior year of high school. The majority of classes college freshmen and sophomores take are core classes such as English, math, history, etc. It doesn’t matter what school you attend. Students can save a lot of money by taking these core classes at a community college and later transfer to a University for classes in their major.

Myth 3: “I’ll take out as many student loans now and just pay it back later.”

Truth: This is not so much a myth as it is just a false and grossly wrong misconception about taking out loans to pay for school. Student loans are designed as a financial alternative to help pay for school. In many instances they provide great support to a student who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to go to school. However, students should be cautious of how much, how many, and what kind of loans they take out.

Not all student loans are created equal. There are three types of student loans: subsidized, unsubsidized, and private. Sub and unsub loans are federal loans. With sub loans the government pays the interest while in school. The government does not pay the interest on unsub loans; rather it accrues while enrolled in school. Graduates can defer sub and unsub student loan payments for up to five years and there is no cap limit on repayment length. Private loans are based on a student’s credit rating and are giving out by banks and student loan companies. Private loans must be paid back within 10 years and you can only defer private loans for three months at a time. Most private loan companies charge a fee (usually $150) to defer a private loan. This fee does not apply to the loan. The reality is that many borrowers find repaying student loans hard and overwhelming. In fact, according to the Department of Education, forty-nine percent of student loans are currently not in repayment due to borrowers’ financial problems.

Solutions:

Do your homework. Make sure you are aware of all costs associated with attending college. Before applying for a particular school research tuition, fees, and room and board. This will give you an idea of exactly how much you will need to attend school.

Research other payment options. There are many scholarship opportunities out there for students and not all of them are based on academics. Some scholarships are given just for being a member of a particular ethnic identity. Some religious institutions and other organizations may offer scholarships to its members. There is also the work-study program where a student works in a department on campus and the money can be applied to tuition.

Renee McGruder is a former communications coordinator and grant writer at MMI.

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