In part one of this series, How to Go to College without Going Broke, I talked about How to Chose a School. I also gave some homework for you to do, so you could start on your journey to making wise education choices. If you haven’t already read that part, I suggest you mosey on over there, but to recap, the questions I had you answer were these:
– WHAT you want to go to school for. Be really specific.
–Talk to people who are already doing what you want to do and find out where they went.
—Figure out how you would attend school. Do you have the ability to go full time, at regular hours? Can you only take night classes?
—What schools are local to you? What schools have friends, family, and co-workers attended? What schools offer a degree in exactly what you want to do (i.e. nursing home nurse)?
Okay, now we can get started on the part I love the most: cheating the system. Now bear with me, I’m not talking about cheating on tests or sneaking into Harvard, instead I am talking about how to get an amazing education for the least amount of money.
You don’t have to go to an ivy league school to get a great education, you just need to pick a school with good, caring teachers that has a good local reputation for the major you have chosen. The one upside about this economy is that there are so many incredibly brilliant teachers out there, looking for work, that even your local community college has a fantastic teaching staff. You don’t have to pay Harvard prices to get where you want to go. Internships and making connections are just as important these days as where you went to school, so be aware, no matter how much you pay for your degree, if you can’t have work experience alongside it, it’s not worth much.
A little back story: I didn’t do well in high school, I found my classes to be pretty boring and I preferred sneaking out to get curly fries from Arby’s (the special sauce!) and hanging out in the art room to doing my French homework or showing up for math class. I didn’t take my SATs or GREs because of course, I was going to be a punk rock artist, living with my boyfriend and his band in a shared house in Boston. Duh. Ahem. After graduation, I moved out of my parent’s house and worked full time. I decided a year later that I knew what I wanted to go to college for and that’s when I had to start thinking about how I would do that.
For anyone who is reading this that is a non-traditional student, or even a traditional student who didn’t have great high school experience, know this: you are not academically defined by what you did as a teenager. I promise.
My choice? Enter into the local community college because all you need is a high school transcript or a GED. Grades don’t matter and you don’t need to have taken any tests. So I spent two years at community college, taking all my pre-requisites and general classes. I had a plan, so I really focused on my work and I ended up having really excellent grades. I was able to commute from home and juggle part time jobs, so I ended up not having any debt from my two years there. I graduated with an Associates Degree, which, at the time, was $1,000 a semester. Nowadays, it’s more; I looked up my old school and they estimate with books to be around $3,000 per semester or $6,000 a year.
Next, I transferred to a state college for my 4 year degree. In NYS, if you graduate from a NYS community college, state schools generally let you come in, as long as you have a specific GPA. Living off campus, as I did, comes in at less than $4,000 a semester, so not much more than the community college.
You can get a full, four year degree for around $23,000. That is a large chunk of change, yes, but here is what you COULD be paying for your education:
Devry University is going to set you back over $100, 000 for a communications degree.
South University will charge you $541 per CREDIT HOUR (each class is about 3 credit hours) for a Criminal Justice degree. They fail to clearly outline online how many credit hours you will need to graduate. Compare to my community college that was $141 a credit hour (if you were going part time and needed to break it down that way).
Boston University, assuming you are out of state and will need to live on campus will run you a whopping $58,000 a YEAR. And that’s not including books or supplies.
Think about that for a minute.
Now think about the questions I asked you. Is what you want to go to school for going to justify being in debt for 100k or more? If you plan on being a rocket scientist, maybe, but if you want to be a hospital nurse, most likely not.
Look at what you want to do and search for options that will work best for you. I absolutely understand that there are huge gaps in this country where there are not good community colleges around and relocation is not an option. But I implore you, read up on where you are thinking about attending school, and ask for a Graduation Plan before you sign up for anything. A Graduation Plan will list out every single class you will need to take to graduate with a degree and give you a timeline of how long it will take. It will also allow you to break down, yourself, how much money it will cost you to gain a degree.
Here’s the take away for today:
*You don’t have to take standardized tests to go to a brick and mortar school.
*You don’t have to get your entire education from one school.
*Don’t sign up for the first school you talk to. Like I said in part one, admission reps are sales people and they will make all sorts of promises. Ask for a graduation plan and step away.
*Use your graduation plan to help you budget. It lets you know how long you will need to be in school and what sort of loans and sacrifices you will have to have to make school work for you.
*Ask other people who have the degree you want if this seems reasonable to them. Bear in mind, tuition fees go up every year, so what someone paid 10 years ago will not match up with what you will be paying. However, that said, knowing people who paid $32,000 for a SUNY Cortland Communications degree in 2008, would make me think twice (at least!) about paying $100k for one in 2013.
*Decide how much you are willing to spend, based on your anticipated STARTING salary (you never know in this economy what the future holds, so be cautious in what kind of debt you are willing to be in) and search for schools and programs that will fit into what you are willing to pay.
Get out that notebook from last time and start taking notes. Here are the questions for you to work on:
–Get online and start googling. Put in your degree, your area, you major. Whatever questions you have, start googling. Don’t call anyone yet, not until you have some solid facts.
*Hot tip: if you can’t find clear information online, it isn’t a school you want to go to. If you have to call a person to get information, be cautious: if it’s not in print, publicly, it isn’t trustworthy.
*If you get a call from anyone, asking you if want a job, telling you they can help if you sign up for their classes, find out what school they work for, and hang up. Reputable schools do not call you like this.
*Be aware that if you fail a class you will have to pay to retake it and financial aid will often not cover the cost. So if you think you can only pass one class per semester because of your work schedule, only take one. (We’ll talk about this in more depth next time).
—What is the cost for full time? Part time? Per credit?
—Do the fees include books or supplies? If not, what do they estimate it will cost?
—If you aren’t going to live on campus, what are your living expenses? Commuting costs?
—What is the registration fee? Graduation fee? (Schools charge these, and you need to factor that in so you aren’t caught unaware).
Next time, we will take all the answers you have here and start to really understand where your tuition and living expense money is going to come from and how to get as much free money as possible.