6 ways to help pay for college

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Who isn’t looking for a little extra money for college?

After you’ve maxed out scholarships, work study, federal student loans, your parents’ savings and your own savings, here are six ways to help pay those college bills:

1. Apply for college credits. By taking advanced-placement classes in high school, then earning high enough scores on a variety of standardized tests, you can earn college credits. “What people don’t understand is how much money this can save you,” says Ben Kaplan, author of ”
How to Go to College Almost for Free,” who racked up enough college credits that he was able to enter Harvard as a sophomore — saving himself about $30,000.

Even a single test can slice “over $7,000,” he says.

Scope out your prospective schools to find out what subjects merit advanced placement credits and which tests they require.

“Some schools award credit for everything and a lot of it,” says Kaplan. “Others are really stingy. Two comparable schools might have different policies that could make a difference of $15,000.”

In high school, Kaplan was strongly considering Harvard, which accepted AP literature, but not AP composition. So he took AP lit. It “seemed more accepted and helped me save some money.”

2. Brainstorm. Are there any hobbies, interests or talents you have that might make you more valuable to your school? L.D. Ross, father of two daughters in college and senior program manager for District of Columbia College Access Program (DC-CAP), remembers the son of a friend sweating over the last $10,000 in tuition for an Ivy League school.

The young man played an instrument well and learned there was a need in the college symphony. He tried out and got the position, along with the scholarship money. While he knew he’d be majoring in a completely different subject, as long as he stayed in the orchestra, he could keep his scholarship.

Keep an eye out for scholarships that will let you apply each year or semester, Ross says. His daughters both worked for a business that allowed student workers to compete for a $500 scholarships every semester. They have to maintain 3.0 gradae point averages and work a certain number of hours every year, he says. But for the cost of a little extra work on their breaks, his girls have access to another source of college money.

3. Revisit the financial aid office. “If you’re facing the semester and the bill is something you cannot handle, go back to the financial aid office and lay it out,” says Kathy Kristof, author of “Taming the Tuition Tiger.”

Be specific with what you want. Say, “I’m short this amount of money. What can you do for me?” she says. There might be a school-based loan or a grant they’ve found. Or they may have gotten additional aid

Financial aid packages are negotiable, says Ross.

Kristof agrees. “You have to go in and you have to ask,” she says. While many people are hesitant to discuss money, this is no time to be squeamish. “Get over it because this is Intro to Life 101,” she says.

4. Inquire about a payment plan. If you can’t quite make the money fit the bill, and you’re already contemplating a loan, first “go to your college and ask them to set you up on a payment plan,” says Kristof. If you can’t come up with $6,000, ask if you can pay them $500 a month, she says. “It means you don’t pay interest on the debt.”

“Generally, it costs about $50 to sign up and you’re done,” Kristof says.

5. A part-time job. Many students work during the academic year and some schools will keep lists of local part-time jobs. “That might be a better way to go than trying to find a job on your own,” says Kenneth Redd, director of research and policy analysis for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Start with the career services or financial aid office.

Two things to discuss with your financial aid counselor: Will the salary put any of your financial aid at risk? And if you have to drop a class to add a few hours to your work week, will you still be carrying enough hours to qualify for any scholarships, grants, loans or even your parents’ health insurance plan? Second, working more than 15 hours a week could make you statistically more likely to drop out, according to a 2002 study by the American Council on Education.

6. Private loans. Most financial aid experts advise students to use private loans only when they’ve run out of other options.

Even so, “there are a fairly good number of private loans available out there that will allow a student to borrow upwards of $10,000 a year,” says Redd. His advice: Start with the school’s preferred lender list, but shop around. Check with three or four lender and see which one has the best repayment terms and interest rates.

Some questions to ask: What’s the interest rate? Is it fixed or adjustable? Under what circumstances could it increase? How long do I have to repay the money? What are the options for repayment plans? Can I delay this until after graduation? If so, what will that end up costing?

What are the payments and when are they due? Are there prepayment penalties? What are the fees for late or missed payments? What is the lender’s policy on you having to repay the loan while still in school? If you can put it off, will the interest still be mounting? “Depending on a student’s cash flow situation, that obviously has a big impact,” says Redd.

Depending on the loan, you might also need a co-signer, he says.

“I would caution people from getting loans that are not federally guaranteed student loans,” says Kristof. Federal student loans “have a whole bunch of protections that private loans do not offer.” And while some private loans are fine, “some of them are not,” she says.

If the interest rate is high or can go up to almost any level, you could be walking out of college with a really big debt. Like many other financial aid experts, she cautions students to use private loans as “a last resort” when it comes to financing college.

One thing you need to know about the preferred lender list: It means more at some schools than others. While some colleges negotiate aggressively for good rates on behalf of their students before a lender goes on the list, others may not. “You don’t know what your school is like,” Kaplan says. “Compare it with an outside source.”

“A lot of students don’t want to take out student loans,” says Ross. “You have to invest in your future. But what we don’t want to see is a kid borrowing $10,000 to $12,000 a year.”

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

Written by
Dana Dratch
Personal Finance Writer
Dana Dratch is a personal finance and lifestyle writer who enjoys talking all things money and credit. With a degree in English and writing, she likes asking the questions everyone would ask if they could and sharing the answers — along with smart money management tips from the experts.