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Finding Free Money for College

Free money for college sounds too good to be true, but it’s a real thing. It comes in the form of scholarships and grants, which almost never have to be repaid.

Families may need to put in effort to find scholarships and grants, but the hustle can pay off.

Free Money for College‽

Yes, that’s right. Scholarships and grants are gifts that reduce the need to take out student loans.

The average student loan debt loads, rounded up, are as follows, according to EducationData researchers:

•   $37,700 for undergraduate students

•   $80,500 for master’s degree holders

•   $132,300 for doctorate holders

Depending on your perspective, that might seem like a lot or might seem manageable. But let’s say a borrower was eligible for free money and left it on the table: That, unfortunately, does happen.

Here are details about the two types of financial aid gifts.

What Are Scholarships?

The many types of scholarships include merit scholarships, which are not based on financial need.

Academic and athletic scholarships are well known, but merit aid also may be determined by community involvement, dedication to a field of study, or your ability to do a killer duck call or create promwear from duct tape.

Scholarships can also be based on a specific trait, like your race, ethnicity, or gender, if you’re a first-generation college student, or where you live.

Scholarships are awarded by companies, nonprofits, states, religious groups, employers, individuals, and professional and social organizations. A big source of merit scholarships is colleges themselves.

What Are Grants?

Grants are awarded by the federal government, state government, private companies, and nonprofits.

Almost all federal and state grants for college are need based, but some nonprofit and for-profit organizations offer need- or merit-based grants.

Students who plan to attend a community college, career school, or four-year college are smart to complete a FAFSA application each year. Information in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid determines what kinds of federal financial aid they qualify for, including grants.

Most states and schools use FAFSA information to award non-federal aid, so even higher-income families may benefit from submitting an application.

How Much Does Free Money for College Help?

Scholarships and grants can make a big difference in lightening the college debt load.

Take a look.

How Families Pay for College

Average college expenditure in the 2021-22 academic year $25,300
Parent and student income and savings 54%
Scholarships and grants 26%
Borrowed money 18%
Relatives and friends 2%
Source: Sallie Mae “How America Pays for College 2022” report

Finding Scholarships and Grants

With federal and institutional grants, you are automatically considered for need-based financial aid when you submit the FAFSA.

Finding private scholarships can take more time and effort.

Federal Student Aid recommends that students start researching scholarships the summer after their junior year of high school. An ambitious few start before that.

Researching Scholarships

Here are ideas to look for scholarships:

•   Consider using a database like Scholarships.com that lets you create a profile with all of your information, which could help you match with scholarships and grants.

•   Use the Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop site to sort more than 9,000 opportunities for financial aid.

•   Try more than one scholarship search tool. The nonprofit College Board also offers one.

•   Ask college financial aid offices about their scholarship availability and process.

•   See if your employer or your parents’ employers offer college aid.

•   Look for scholarships offered by foundations, religious or civic groups, local businesses, and organizations related to your field of interest.

You don’t have to be a scholar or standout athlete to get a scholarship. Students may have success finding non-academic scholarships for, like, an awesome duck call.

Finding those private scholarships and completing the essay and application will take time, however.

Recommended: Search Grants and Scholarships by State

Researching Grants

Grants are typically awarded in a federal financial aid package.

In addition to federal grants, schools may award institutional grants.

It’s a good idea to take a shot at free money by submitting the FAFSA each year when it becomes available or soon after.

The Sallie Mae “How America Pays for College” report found that 75% of families were not aware that the FAFSA is available on Oct. 1 and that 36% did not file an application because they thought their income was too high to qualify for aid.

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Other Options to Help Pay for College

There are many ways to pay for school, and students and their parents may use a combination of methods to cover the cost of attendance, an estimate of the total cost of attending a particular college for one year.

Paying for College With Student Loans

Most students leave school with debt, thanks to all the costs of college, which go well beyond tuition and fees.

When it comes to private vs. federal student loans, most students first go for federal student loans.

For one thing, an undergrad might qualify for Direct Subsidized Loans. The government pays the interest on those loans as long as the student is enrolled at least half-time. The interest is also covered for six months after the student leaves school, graduates, or enters a period of deferment.

For another, borrowers may qualify for an income-based repayment plan, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, or federal deferment or forbearance down the road.

Not all students or parents will be able to rely solely on federal aid to cover all their bases, though, and that’s where a private student loan could come in handy.

Private student loans don’t come with all the borrower protections and programs that federal student loans do, but they can be used to cover any remaining school-certified costs, here or abroad, from transportation to books and lodging.

The interest rate may be competitive with federal student loan rates. Also, most federal student loans have loan fees — a percentage of the total loan amount — whereas a private student loan may have no fees.

Federal Work-Study

The federal work-study program allows students to earn money that can be used to pay day-to-day expenses. Students who demonstrate financial need may be eligible for jobs on or off campus.

Not all colleges participate in the program.

Does a Student Ever Have to Repay a Grant?

Federal Student Aid says the only time you might have to repay all or part of a federal grant is when:

•   You withdrew early from the program for which the grant was given to you.

•   Your enrollment status changed. If, for example, you switch from full-time to part-time enrollment, your grant amount will be reduced.

•   You received outside scholarships or grants that reduced your need for federal student aid.

•   You received a TEACH Grant, but you did not meet the service obligation. In that case, the grant could be converted to Direct Unsubsidized Loans.

If you don’t meet the expectations of a scholarship, such as GPA or credit-hour minimums, you could lose the gift and have to pay out of pocket.

When it comes to sports, the head coach decides whether an athletic scholarship will be renewed. Injury or poor academics can sack an athletic scholarship.

NCAA Division I and II colleges alone award more than $3.7 billion in athletic scholarships each year. But only a tiny fraction of high school students are offered athletic scholarships, and an even tinier number get a full ride.

Recommended: FAFSA Tips and Mistakes to Avoid

So Who Wants Free Money for College?

Changes to the federal application for student aid are afoot. What hasn’t changed is the benefit of filling out the FAFSA on or soon after Oct. 1 for the next school year. Funding is limited and often doled out on a first-come, first-served basis.

And, to reiterate, other student aid programs piggyback off the FAFSA.

The FAFSA considers student income, parent income and assets, and family size to calculate the expected family contribution (EFC).

The EFC is used to determine whether a student qualifies for federal grants like the Pell Grant, for low-income families; federal student loans; or work-study. The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2023-2024 year is $7,395.

Some FAFSA changes will be launched this year. Starting with the 2023-24 award year, for example, students incarcerated in federal and state correctional facilities will be eligible for Pell Grants.

The “Student Aid Index” will replace the “expected family contribution” starting with the 2024-25 award year, to clarify the misunderstood EFC.

The Takeaway

Free money for college is a real thing. Grants and scholarships are worth seeking out because they reduce the need to take out student loans. But if you still need to borrow, there’s no shame in that game. Most students do.

If you’re a student or parent and don’t anticipate being able to cover every cost of college in any given year, consider a SoFi Private Student Loan.

SoFi offers undergraduate, graduate, and parent student loans — with a variety of repayment options and no fees whatsoever.

Get your rate on a private student loan within three minutes.


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Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Community College vs College: Pros and Cons

Community College vs College: Pros and Cons

Community colleges offer a more affordable path to a Bachelor’s degree for students who are interested in transferring to a four-year institution. Students at community college can fulfill general education requirements on a flexible schedule while earning their associates degree. However, community colleges don’t offer a Bachelor’s degree option and can lack student life and extracurricular opportunities.

Community colleges can be a great fit for some students while others may prefer to start out at a four-year college or university. As you explore your choices, review the differences between community colleges and four-year universities. See how they stack up with what you’re looking to get out of a college career.

What Is a Community College?

Community colleges are one type of post secondary institution. Sometimes called junior colleges, these are educational institutions that offer two-year degrees and a path to transferring to a four-year college or university.

Community College vs University: How They Compare

Community colleges, as mentioned generally offer two-year associates degrees. In comparison, colleges and universities often offer four-year degrees such as a Bachelor of Arts or Sciences.

Similarities

Both types of colleges have some similarities, including the types of aid that you may receive to attend.

Financial Aid

It’s possible to get student loans for community colleges. Students at both community colleges and four-year schools may qualify for the same types of federal financial aid. These options may include scholarships, grants, and federal student loans.

Prerequisite Courses

Community colleges will offer some of the same prerequisite courses as universities. Classes like General Chemistry 101 or Microbiology 101 are similar at community colleges and students may be able to transfer these prerequisite courses toward a four-year degree if they choose to transfer.

Academic Challenge

It’s easy to think of community college classes as a breeze to complete — but, in many cases, community colleges offer academically rigorous classes that cover material comparable to those offered at four-year institutions. Additionally, community college professors do not conduct research, so there may be more of a focus on in-classroom instruction at community colleges than at four-year colleges or universities.

Differences

There are also plenty of differences between attending a community college vs. university. In addition to the estimated time to earn a degree and the type of degree available, these include things like the cost of attendance, class size, and the application process.

Cost

Attending a community college can be significantly cheaper than going to a four-year university. For example, at schools that are part of the California Community College system, the cost of classes is $46 per credit unit. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost per credit at a four-year university with in-state tuition is $390.

Class Size

The average class size can vary dramatically depending on the school you attend. Community colleges typically have class sizes that hover around 25 to 30 students, depending on the course and school. Some four-year universities can have class sizes into the hundreds, especially for intro-level courses.

Application Process

The application process at a university vs. community college can be much more competitive. At many four-year colleges, the application process consists of requirements like a college essay, recommendation letters, and high school transcripts. Additionally, schools may have strict deadlines for admissions each year.

Community colleges often offer more flexibility in the application process. Many community colleges are open access, meaning almost anyone can enroll in classes. There may be restrictions for certain programs or classes, for example, classes required for nursing programs.

Campus Life

While some community colleges may offer on-campus housing for students, a large number of them will continue to live at-home or off-campus. This can make on-campus life feel very different than at a four-year college where most students live on-campus.

Similarities and Differences Between Community College vs. University

Topic

Community College

Colleges and Universities

Financial Aid Both types of schools may be eligible for federal student aid. Both types of schools may be eligible for federal student aid.
Prerequisite Courses Both types of schools offer general education or prerequisite courses like General Chemistry 101 or American History 101. Both types of schools offer general education or prerequisite courses like General Chemistry 101 or American History 101.
Cost Community colleges are significantly cheaper than four-year institutions. Colleges and universities are generally more expensive than community colleges.
Class Size Class sizes at community colleges are generally smaller than at four-year institutions. Class sizes may be larger at some colleges or universities. At some schools, intro level courses can have hundreds of students in a single class.
Application Process The application process for community college is usually more lenient than at four-year institutions. Colleges and universities often have strict requirements that may include a college essay, letters of recommendation, and standardized testing.
Campus Life Because many students live off-campus, campus life may be less robust than at four-year institutions. Many colleges and universities are known for having a rich on-campus life available for students and offer a variety of extracurricular activities.

Pros and Cons of Attending a Community College

There are both downsides and benefits of community college. Community colleges can offer an affordable path to get a four-year degree, but transferring and a lack of on-campus community can detract from the community college experience.

Pros of Community College

Cost

One of the top pros in the community college column is the price tag. As previously outlined, courses at community college can be significantly less costly than at a four-year institution. For students who are paying for college without parents’ help, starting at a community college can help them significantly lower the cost of their overall degree.

Additionally, students may be able to continue living at home with their family, which can cut costs even further since they won’t be paying for room and board.

Flexibility

Community colleges have flexible scheduling options that can make working while you are in school easier.

Students may also be able to take a variety of classes if they are not sure what field or major they’d like to pursue at a four-year college.

Qualified Professors and Small Class Sizes

As already mentioned, community colleges may offer smaller classes. These small class sizes can lead to more hands-on professors and lecturers — who may be just as qualified as those at larger universities.

Cons of Community College

Limited Curriculum and Degree Programs

Community colleges can be a good place to explore interests and fulfill requirements for a four-year degree. But they may be limited in the types of courses available. Students who are interested in exploring or fulfilling general education programs.

Need to Transfer for Bachelor’s Degree

To pursue a Bachelor’s degree, community college students will need to transfer to a four-year institution.

Lack of On-Campus Life

Because many students live off-campus, on-campus activity and extracurriculars may be limited.

Pros and Cons of Attending a Community College

Pros of Attending a Community College

Cons of Attending a Community College

Cost. Community colleges are generally more affordable than other educational institutions. Limited Curriculum and Degree Programs. Students may be limited in the types of programs and degree options available.
Flexibility. Students can choose from a variety of class times that may make it easier to work while studying and can allow them to explore a variety of academic interests. Need to Transfer for a Bachelor’s Degree. Community colleges typically offer up to an Associate’s Degree.
Qualified Professors and Small Class Sizes. Class sizes at community colleges hover around 25 to 30 students. Lack of On-Campus Life. Campus life and extracurriculars may be more robust at a four-year institution.

Pros and Cons of Attending a University

Attending a four-year college or university can have pros and cons — just like its community college counterpart. Some benefits of universities include improved long-term earning potential and the opportunity to build a network. The major downside can be the steep cost.

Pros of a University

Long-Term Earning Potential

Bachelor’s degrees can lead to a significant boost in earning potential. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, individuals with Bachelor’s degrees can earn up to 31% more than those with an associate’s degree.

Plus, a Bachelor’s degree is sometimes a prerequisite for careers in some fields, like human resources, marketing, or computer science and software engineering.

On-Campus Life and Extracurriculars

Many colleges have a rich on-campus life with an active student body and a variety of extracurriculars. Depending on your interests and the school you attend you could participate in the school’s television and radio station, join an intramural sports team, and more.

Build a Network

Many colleges have a strong and extensive alumni network that students can tap into post-graduation while they look for a job. While you are attending school, you’ll also build soft-skills like time-management, organization, and interpersonal communication that can be invaluable in the professional world.

Cons of a University

Cost

One of the biggest downsides to college is the cost. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees at private four-year institutions was $38,070 during the 2021-2022 school year. Add in costs for room and board and other living expenses and it can be easy to see why some students may be dissuaded from pursuing a four-year degree.

Social Distractions

With all of the hustle and bustle at a college, it can be challenging to balance work, well-being, and fun. With parties, extracurriculars, sports, and more it can be easy for students to get distracted from their studies.

Can You Combine Community College and University?

Yes! It’s very possible to attend a two-year community college and then transfer to a four-year college to complete your Bachelor’s degree. Many community colleges have articulation agreements in place with local state schools that can make it easier to transfer credits.

Check in with your academic advisor as you complete community college classes to be sure they will transfer to the college of your choice.

Figuring Out What’s Right for You

As you’re crafting your own pro/con list, here are some questions to ask yourself before making your decision.

•   Do I want to live at home or on campus? If you’re hoping to be close to family or need to stay in town for a job, finding a community college campus nearby could be the right call.

•   Do I want to join clubs and organizations? While community colleges offer lots of activities, universities typically provide a lot more for students to partake in.

•   Do I have enough money to go to a big school? Whether a major state school or a private college or university, student loan debt could follow you for a long time after you graduate.

•   Where is my support system? Not having friends and loved ones around may make school more difficult for some. If your support system is vital to you, and you can’t find a big school near your close family, opting for a community college might be better.

•   Is this the best option for my major? Determining what you want to pursue as a career is a big deal. If you aren’t certain about what you want to do, you might not want to move far away quite yet. Or alternately, maybe getting some distance from your close friends and family will help you find your direction.

The Takeaway

Community colleges can offer a more affordable path to a four-year degree. Universities can offer a rich on-campus experience and a strong long-term earning potential. Depending on your personal situation, either or both could be a good fit. Once you decide where you want to go, you’ll need to figure out how to pay for college. Typically, students rely on a few different funding sources to fund their education including scholarships, grants, work-study, and student loans.

If you’ve exhausted your federal student loan options, private student loans may be something to consider. They can help fill in funding gaps, but keep in mind, may lack borrower protections available to federal student loan borrowers.

SoFi doesn’t offer funding for community college classes, but does for undergraduate degrees and some graduate certificate programs. If you’re looking for funding to cover some higher education costs, consider SoFi. Student loans from SoFi have no fees and as a SoFi member, borrowers will qualify for additional benefits like career coaching.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

FAQ

Is community college easier academically than university?

Community colleges often have qualified professors and courses that are comparable to those offered at a four-year institution. The course selection and degree programs available at a community college may be more limited than at a university.

Is getting a degree from a community college worth it?

Getting a degree from a community college can be worth it. In addition to securing an associate’s degree, you may be able to transfer to a four-year institution to continue your education to get a Bachelor’s degree. Doing this can be less expensive than pursuing a Bachelor’s degree exclusively at a four-year institution.

Is going to community college a good way to cut down on the cost of a 4 year college degree?

The cost of classes at a community college is typically significantly cheaper than the cost at a four-year institution. Starting out at a community college transferring to complete your degree can significantly cut the cost of tuition. Plus, community college students may have the option to live at home which can reduce room and board expenses.


Photo credit: iStock/simonkr

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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Bank, N.A. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Comparing Student Loans: Key Factors to Look At

Comparing Private Student Loans: Key Factors to Look At

All student loans are not alike. In fact, shopping around for a loan is not so different from buying a car. Some lenders offer better deals than others. And it helps if you know a little something about what’s “under the hood.”

Read on to find out what to look for when comparing student loans — from interest rates and fees to payback terms and special protections for borrowers. Soon, you’ll be able to choose a loan with confidence that it’s the right one for you.

But First, the FAFSA

Before turning to private student loans, you’ll want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Federal financial aid includes grants, scholarships, and work-study programs, which don’t need to be paid back. The FAFSA also gives you access to federal student loans, which are generally a better deal than private loans. The financial aid office at your preferred college can also help you navigate the different types of loans available to students.

4 Key Factors to Consider When Comparing Loans

Once you’ve completed the FAFSA, you may realize that you’ll need to cover some education costs with a private lender. Weighing the factors below will help you choose the right lender and loan for you.

1. How Much Do You Need to Borrow?

When calculating how much you’ll need to borrow the first year, answer the following questions to the best of your knowledge:

•   Will you have an off-campus job?

•   Will you receive any tuition assistance from your family?

•   How is tuition structured at your institution? At some colleges, you may pay per credit. Other colleges have flat tuition, regardless of how many credits you take.

•   Living expenses should be a part of your calculations. Are there ways to trim those costs? For example, can you live at home or with roommates? Can you rely on public transportation instead of your own car?

•   How many years will it take to complete your course of study? Does it make sense to take an accelerated program and complete coursework in fewer years? On the flip side, can you stretch out coursework to make more time for a part-time job?

•   Do you need to spend all four years at your first-choice college? Some students minimize their overall tuition bill by spending a year or two at a state or community college before transferring to a pricier dream school.

This isn’t an exact science, so don’t sweat the nickels and dimes. The goal is to avoid over-borrowing, because you’ll be paying interest on your loans. Also, there’s no rule that says you need to accept the largest loan offered, if you can get by on less.

You may even want to look at how well your future income will cover your bills after graduation. Search job listings and talk to recent grads in your potential field of study to get the scoop on entry-level salaries.
All this will give you a solid understanding of how much you’ll need to borrow. The next step is to compare the loans available from a variety of lenders.

Recommended: Cash Course: A Student’s Guide to Money

2. Do You Need a Cosigner?

Private loan terms are mostly determined by the borrower’s financial history, employment status, and credit score. The longer your history and higher your score, the better your interest rate. Since most students have a minimal credit history, they often apply for student loans with a cosigner.

A cosigner is someone who agrees to pay the loan in case the main borrower is not able to. A cosigner needs to provide financial information (such as employment status) and agree to have their credit checked. Should there be any issues with repayment on the loan, both the borrower’s and the cosigner’s credit may be affected.

Some borrowers can have a hard time finding someone with good credit who is willing to cosign. Knowing before you begin the loan process whether you’ll need a cosigner and who that cosigner will be can speed the application process. (If you have a minimal credit history, you’ll probably need a cosigner regardless of which lender you use.) Learn more about whether you need a cosigner.

3. What Are the Loan Terms?

Your loan “terms” will determine the overall cost of your loan and your monthly payments. These terms include:

Interest Rate

Your interest rate will partly determine how much money you owe over the life of the loan. Many private lenders have an online tool that allows potential borrowers to see their estimated interest rate before they apply for the loan. First, you can check out the average interest rates for student loans.

Interest rates may be either fixed or variable. A fixed-rate means the rate won’t change during the life of the loan. A variable rate can fluctuate over time. Variable rates may start lower than fixed rates but can go higher in the future. Sometimes, a variable rate makes sense for people who plan to pay off the loan quickly. A fixed rate is a good idea for people who want to budget the same amount per month.

Length of Loan

A shorter loan term typically has higher monthly payments but is less expensive, since interest has less time to accrue. A longer repayment period usually has lower monthly payments, but will cost you more in interest overall.

Another factor to consider is prepayment penalties. This is when a lender charges you a fee for paying off your loan before the end of the loan term. Many private lenders allow prepayment without any fees, but make sure to check with any lenders you are considering.

Repayment Options

Repayment schedules vary by lender. Some may allow borrowers who are in school to defer payment until after they graduate. Others may allow student borrowers to make interest-only payments.

Find out whether or not the lender offers flexibility in switching repayment plans during the life of the loan.

Loan Fees

Lenders make money on loans by charging borrowers interest. Some student loan lenders also charge additional fees. Student loan fees may include:

•   Origination fees – charged by the lender for processing the loan

•   Late payment fees

•   Returned-check fees

•   Loan collection fees

•   Forbearance and deferment fees

Before you choose a private loan, find out what fees (if any) you may incur.

Recommended: How Do Student Loans Work?

4. How Good Is the Lender’s Customer Support?

The above three factors are what’s known as “loan terms.” The last factor has to do with how the lender will support you, the borrower, during the life of the loan. This includes:

Customer Service

If you have questions or concerns, how can you contact your lender? Can you call a live person, or must you deal with a chatbot?

Financial Tools

Some lenders offer financial resources and tools to their borrowers, such as webinars, articles, and calculators.

Unemployment Protection

Some lenders may offer benefits that protect borrowers who are temporarily unable to pay their bills due to unemployment. For example, SoFi offers unemployment protection for some borrowers who have accounts in good standing and lose their job through no fault of their own.

The Takeaway

If you’re new to borrowing money — as most undergrads are — you may not know what to consider when choosing a student loan. Before you shop around, determine how much you need to borrow by creating a college budget that includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, and living expenses. Then decide whether you’ll need a cosigner for the loan — someone with good credit who can help secure you a lower interest rate than you’d qualify for on your own. When comparing loans from different lenders, you’ll want to look at the interest rate, length of the loan, any fees and penalties, and the lender’s reputation for customer service. It all comes down to saving money over the life of the loan. If you’re careful, you won’t pay more than you need to.

If you’ve exhausted your federal financial aid options and still need funds to cover your cost of attendance, private student loans are one option to consider. Private student loans with SoFi have no fees, including no origination fees or late payment penalties. In fact, SoFi was named a Best Private Student Loans Company by U.S. News and World Report in 2022.

SoFi private student loans offer competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers, flexible repayment plans, and no fees.


Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Strategies for Lowering Your Student Loan Interest Rate

When you’re in college, you don’t have a lot of control over the interest rates on your student loans. With federal loans, the U.S. Department of Education sets the rate each year for all borrowers. And if you get private student loans, a limited credit history can make it hard for young people to score favorable terms.

But once you graduate, there are a few things you can try to save money on interest. Here are a few tips that may lower your interest rate on student loans.

Choose the Right Repayment Plan

If you don’t choose a specific repayment path, you’re typically opted into the Standard Repayment Plan. In this plan, your payments are generally based on a 10-year timeline. But this one-size-fits-all plan is not the best option for everyone.

The federal government also offers four income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, where the monthly payments are based on your income and family size. While choosing one of these plans may lower your monthly payments, it will likely not alleviate how much interest you pay over time. In fact, you might even pay significantly more.

After 20 or 25 years, depending on the IDR plan, any remaining balance is forgiven. However, the amount forgiven may be considered taxable income by the IRS. So even though your student loan debt goes away, prepare yourself for a big tax bill that year.

Another money-saving repayment option for federal student loans is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. If you work in a qualifying public service job — for the government or a nonprofit organization — you might be eligible to have your student loans forgiven after 10 years of service.

You can confirm whether your work qualifies here. You’ll want to submit an Employment Certification as soon as possible to be sure that you’re on track to qualify.

Recommended: 4 Student Loan Repayment Options, and How to Choose

Consolidate Your Student Loans

Have multiple student loans floating around that you’d love to combine into one? Consider loan consolidation, where you’ll merge all your student loans into one easy monthly payment with a single interest rate. Here’s the rub, though: Consolidation alone does not necessarily get you a lower student loan interest rate. It just offers you one payment instead of multiple.

When consolidating federal student loans, you can use a Direct Consolidation Loan. Your new interest rate is simply the weighted average of all your current student loan interest rates. The weighted average might be a smidge higher than the interest rates you were paying previously. Often folks utilize consolidation to stretch out the life of their student loan, which lowers your payments but may increase the amount you owe over time.

Even though consolidation itself is not a direct way to get a better rate on your student loans, it can be helpful if you’re having trouble keeping track of your monthly payments. Consolidation may also be useful if you want to merge non-direct federal loans (like Perkins loans) with direct loans, in order to qualify for income-driven repayment and/or loan forgiveness programs.

By the way, the term “consolidating” is often used interchangeably with “refinancing,” but they technically mean different things. When refinancing student loans, you also happen to be consolidating, but it is done with the goal of achieving a more favorable interest rate on your student loans.

Recommended: The Basics of the Student Loans

Set Up Automatic Payments

Many student loan servicers — both federal and private — offer an interest rate discount if you set up autopay on your account. Depending on the servicer, you can lower your student loan interest rate. SoFi, for example, offers a 0.25% autopay discount.

The reason servicers offer this discount is that by setting up automatic payments, you’re less likely to miss payments and default on the loan.

In addition to getting a lower student loan interest rate, you’ll also (hopefully!) have peace of mind knowing that you won’t accidentally miss a payment. If you feel you’re putting a little too much money toward student loans, check with your loan servicer to see whether they offer an autopay discount.

Get a Loyalty Discount

In addition to an autopay discount, some private student loan companies also offer a loyalty discount when you have another eligible account with them.

If you’re already a member with SoFi, for instance, you receive an interest rate discount of 0.125% on all new loans.

Other lenders may require that you have an eligible checking or savings account with them to qualify for the bonus, and you may even get a bigger discount if you make your monthly payments from that account.

To get an idea of how a change in interest rate would impact your loan, take advantage of a student loan refinance calculator to see what your new payments could be.

Refinancing Your Student Loans

Scoring discounts with your current servicer can help you get a lower student loan interest rate, but there is another option to consider. Depending on your financial profile, you may qualify for a lower student loan interest rate than what you’re currently paying with student loan refinancing.

There are multiple advantages to refinancing student loans. You can potentially lower your interest rate by bundling several loans (federal and private) into one new loan. And if you shorten your loan term, you may be able to pay off your student loans much faster and pay less in interest over the life of your loan.

Student Loan RefinancingStudent Loan Refinancing

Student loan refinancing is ideal for borrowers with high-interest student loans who have good credit scores and know they won’t use any of the federal loan benefits, like student loan forgiveness. (All federal loan benefits, including income-based repayment, will be lost if you refinance.)

Here are a few things that can help you improve your chances of getting a lower student loan interest rate with refinancing:

•   A high credit score: Lenders typically have a minimum credit score requirement, so the higher your score, the better your chances of getting a low rate usually are.

•   A low debt-to-income (DTI) ratio: Your income is also an important factor that lenders consider, especially as it relates to your overall debt burden. If a smaller portion of your monthly income goes toward debt payments, it shows you may have more income to dedicate to your new loan’s payments.

•   A co-signer: Even if your credit and income situation is in good shape, having a co-signer with great credit and a solid income might help your case.

•   A variable rate: Some student loan refinance lenders offer both variable and fixed interest rates. Variable interest rates may start out lower but increase over time with market fluctuations. Fixed rates, stay the same over the life of the loan. If you’re planning on paying off your student loans quickly, a variable rate might save you money.

•   The right lender: Each lender has its own criteria for setting interest rates, so it’s important to shop around to find the best lender for your needs. Some lenders, including SoFi, even allow you to view rate offers before you officially apply.

Lower Your Student Loan Interest Rate

There are several ways to get a lower student loan interest rate. It can be as easy as calling your servicer to find out what discounts are available. You can also choose a new repayment plan, consolidate your federal loans, or refinance federal and private loans. With refinancing, you may secure a lower interest rate if you have a high credit score, low debt-to-income ratio, a cosigner, or a variable interest rate. Just know that when refinancing federal student loans, borrowers lose federal protections and forgiveness.

If you’re considering refinancing your student loans with SoFi, you can check your interest rate in just a few minutes. And it won’t take much time beyond that to officially apply. Depending on which refinancing options you choose, you can potentially save money on interest over the life of the loan.

Take control of your student loan debt by refinancing with SoFi. See if you qualify to secure a lower student loan interest rate in just two minutes.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

CLICK HERE for more information.


Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.


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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Full-time vs Part-time Student

Full-time vs Part-time Student

Once you’ve been accepted to college, an important decision you’ll need to make is whether to attend full time or part time. This is determined by the number of credits you take during a term. But you may want to consider more than just academic workload. Your enrollment status could also impact your financial aid, cost of attendance, taxes, and college experience.

Below, we’ll explain key differences between going to school full time and part time. We’ll also look at the implications of both to help you determine what makes sense for you.

What Is a Full-time Student?

Undergraduate students are typically considered to be full time when they’re enrolled in 12 or more credits during a term. Graduate students may take as few as nine credits to be considered full time. However, every institution sets its own threshold, so check your school’s policies and requirements.

How Many Classes Do You Need to Be Full Time?

Most classes are worth three credits. To be considered full time, undergraduate students usually take at least four classes per semester, and graduate students enroll in at least three classes.

What Is a Part-time Student?

In general, part-time undergraduate students take fewer than 12 credits. Graduate students attending school part time often enroll in fewer than nine credits. As with full-time enrollment, thresholds for part-time status can vary by institution, so consult your school’s policies.

How Many Classes Do You Need to Be Part Time?

Part-time undergraduate students typically take three or fewer classes per semester. Graduate students studying part time may enroll in one or two classes.

Difference Between Full-time and Part-time Students

The difference between full-time and part-time students comes down to the number of credits they take during a term. Enrollment status can impact how students pay for their education.

Tuition Cost

Part-time students generally pay per credit hour. This allows them to spread out the cost of their education over a longer period of time.

Full-time tuition is capped once a student reaches the credit threshold. This means a student may be able to pay the same in tuition for taking anywhere between 12 to 18 credits in a term. Because of this, full-time students may be interested in maximizing credit hours to reduce education costs. While this can help students stay on track or even graduate early, they may be charged an additional fee per credit hour if they enroll in more than 18 hours per term.

Recommended: What Is the Cost of Attendance in College?

Financial Aid

Enrollment status can affect a student’s financial aid options. For instance, some types of federal student aid require students to be enrolled at least half-time (six or more credits) to qualify.

Pell Grants, which are awarded based on a student’s financial need, vary according to enrollment status. Full-time students may receive up to $6,895 for the 2022-2023 academic year. Awards for part-time students are proportional to the number of credit hours a student takes. For example, a student taking nine credits would be eligible for 75% of the maximum award. Part-time students should keep in mind that eligibility for Pell Grants can’t exceed 12 academic terms.

Both full-time and part-time students can qualify for federal Direct Loans and, if they attend a participating university, the federal work-study program. Interested students must indicate that they’d like to be considered for work-study on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Since financial aid awards can vary by institution, consider checking with your school to determine how enrollment status could impact your overall financial aid package.

Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans

Student Loan Repayment

Whether studying part-time or full-time, many students take out an undergraduate loan to pay for their education expenses. Most federal student loans do not require repayment while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. Part-time students have to repay loans once they drop below half-time enrollment.

Borrowers with Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, or Federal Family Education loans will also have a six-month grace period after graduation before loan payments are due. And if you return to half-time or full-time enrollment prior to the end of the grace period, you will be eligible for the full six-month period upon graduation. Interest on Direct Subsidized loans is covered by the U.S. Department of Education while students are enrolled and during certain periods of deferment.

Graduate and professional students with PLUS loans may also receive a six-month deferment on repayment when falling below half-time status.

Borrowers with private student loans and certain federal loans may be expected to begin repayment immediately.

Scholarships

Scholarships can help pay for tuition and related educational expenses. Organizations may use a variety of criteria when awarding scholarships, including academic merit, financial need, quality of application responses, and enrollment status.

Some scholarships have eligibility requirements that require recipients to be full-time students. Still, opportunities exist for part-time students to secure financial help, including unclaimed scholarships and grants.

Recommended: Scholarships and Grants to Pay Off Student Loans

Tax Credit Eligibility

Enrollment status can have implications for your or your parents’ taxes. There are two main programs — the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) — that can give tax credits for out-of-pocket education expenses.

The AOTC can provide an annual credit up to $2,500 per student, given they are enrolled at least half-time.

Meanwhile, the LLC is open to all students regardless of enrollment status. The maximum credit per return is 20% of eligible education expenses up to $10,000, or $2,000 total.

Schedule and Time Commitment

For many, the choice to be a part-time vs full-time student can often come down to scheduling.

As a general rule of thumb, students can expect between two to three hours of work per week for each credit they’re taking. This means that a three-credit course would require approximately six to nine hours of student engagement, including class time, homework, readings, and studying.

Many full- and part-time students work while completing their degrees to help pay for education and living expenses. according to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In October 2021, 42.7% of full-time students had some type of employment while 83.6% of part-time students were employed.

To make their schedule more feasible, part-time students may consider taking online classes while working to reduce commute times and have access to a wider selection of academic programs.

Taking night classes is another option for students to study while working.

College Experience

Financial considerations are only part of the picture when deciding whether to go to school full or part time. Your overall college experience is another piece. Students carrying a full course load tend to stay in school longer. In 2021, the retention rate for full-time students was 75.6%, compared to 45% for part-time students.

Enrollment status could influence aspects of campus life and extracurricular activities as well. For instance, some schools may only allow full-time students to live in on-campus housing. And student-athletes must abide by NCAA regulations, which include minimum coursework requirements, to be eligible to play.

The Takeaway

The difference between going to college full-time or part-time comes down to how many credits are taken during a term. In general, full-time students take 12 or more credits, while part-time students take 11 or fewer credits.

When deciding whether to be a full-time vs part-time student, you may want to consider more than courseload. Enrollment status can impact tuition costs, taxes, and financial aid options.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help full- and half-time students pay for school. The application process can be completed easily online, and you can see rates and terms in just a few minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, helping students find an option that works for their financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

FAQ

What are some benefits of being a full-time student?

Students who go to school full time are often able to focus completely on their studies, and a full course load means they can complete their degree faster. Full-time enrollment is also required for some scholarships, grants and financial aid.

What are some benefits of being a part-time student?

Studying part time gives you the chance to work while going to school, which can make tuition and fees easier to manage. Plus, some employers will help pay for a portion of the cost.

What factors should I think about when weighing whether to enroll full time or part time?

Deciding whether to be a full-time vs. part-time student is a personal decision. As you’re weighing your options, consider factors like how much time you have in your schedule for school; any work or family commitments; your financial situation and available financial aid options; and your goals after graduation and their time frames.


Photo credit: iStock/Drazen Zigic

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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