Studying for exams. Prepping for the SATs. Writing admissions essays. It’s been a hard journey, but you’ve done it: You’re finally getting ready to head off to college. Academia and independence lie ahead, but before you arrive, there is one more consideration: tuition and how you are going to pay it.
During the 2019-20 school year, the average cost of college tuition and fees at public four-year universities with in-state tuition was $10,440 , according to The College Board. For those paying out-of-state tuition and fees, the average cost was $36,880 . The average cost of tuition and fees for those attending a private four-year college was $36,880. (Note that none of these figures include things like room and board.
If the cost of college tuition is one of the determining factors in your decision process, it could be worth looking into tuition payment plans.
These plans are offered by some colleges and could help make your tuition payments more manageable.
What Is a College Tuition Payment Plan?
Instead of paying for college tuition at the beginning of each year, semester, or quarter, college tuition payment plans—also known as tuition installment plans or deferred payment plans—allow students and their families to spread out the cost of tuition over a period of time.
Depending on the school, the plan may allow payments to be made over the course of the semester or over the full year.
While you’ll generally have to start making payments right away, programs frequently offer the option to spread payments into monthly installments. Some schools also offer programs that break the payment into a few equal payments throughout the semester.
How Do Payment Plans Work?
Some colleges run their own tuition payment plans. Others use an outside service to administer the plan.
Typically these payment plans only cover the direct costs charged by and paid to the college, such as tuition and fees. Sometimes the cost of housing and meal plans will also be included under a tuition fee payment plan. The cost of things like textbooks and school supplies are not usually included in these payment plans.
Many tuition payment plans require an enrollment fee, usually between $50 or $100 , although it may be lower. These plans don’t usually charge interest, which can potentially make them less expensive than taking out a student loan, as long as you are able to make the monthly payments.
What Types of Colleges Offer Payment Plans?
Many schools offer some sort of tuition payment plan. Qualifying for the plan isn’t generally very difficult. However, some schools do have specific enrollment periods. Check with the school you plan to attend to determine when you need to enroll and what is required to do so.
What if My School Doesn’t Offer a Payment Plan
For many students, paying for school upfront isn’t possible. Sometimes even with a payment plan, the burden of tuition is still too high for students and their families. If that’s the case, you could craft another plan to pay for college.
Consider some of the below options as you evaluate what might work best for you. While these ideas might not be enough to help you cover the full cost of tuition on their own, a combination of a few could do the trick.
Federal aid for college encompasses grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study. To apply, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA ®) each year.
The schools you apply to will use this information to determine how much aid you receive. You’ll typically receive an award letter detailing what types of federal aid you’ve qualified for and the amounts.
Federal student loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are awarded based on need. The Department of Education covers the interest that accrues on these loans while you are in school at least part-time, during the grace period after leaving school, and during periods of deferment or forbearance.
Unsubsidized loans are awarded independent of need. You’ll be responsible for paying the interest that accrues on these loans while you are in school and during periods of deferment, like the grace period. You won’t be required to make payments on either unsubsidized or subsidized loans while you are actively enrolled more than part-time in school.
The federal work-study program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate financial need. The amount of work-study you receive will depend on factors like when you applied, your level of determined financial need, and the amount of funding available at your school.
The money you earn for work-study won’t count against you when you fill out the FAFSA, so it shouldn’t jeopardize future financial aid awards. Each time you fill out the FAFSA, it’s worth indicating that you’re still interested in receiving work-study as part of your financial aid award (that is, if you are still interested).
And it’s important to remember that your financial aid award may change from year to year, depending on you and your family’s circumstances.
Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants don’t typically have to be repaid, which makes them one of the best options for students trying to pay for school. Some scholarships and grants are awarded by schools based on the information you provided in the FAFSA, but there are scholarships and grants available that aren’t based on financial need.
Taking some time to comb through online databases that catalog available scholarships, like FastWeb or Scholarships.com , could prove helpful. Each scholarship will have different application requirements.
Some might require an essay or additional supplementary materials, but the effort could be worth it if you’re able to fund a portion of your tuition costs.
Private Student Loans
Sometimes federal aid, scholarships, and your savings aren’t enough to cover the full cost of tuition. In those cases, private student loans could be an option. Unlike federal student loans, which are offered by the government, private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, or other private lenders.
The private student loan application process will vary slightly based on lender policies, but will almost always require a credit check.
Lenders will review your credit score and financial history as they determine how much money they are willing to lend to you.
In some cases, students might need the help of a cosigner to take out a private student loan. This could be the case if they have little to no credit history.
Often, parents are able to cosign. If a student’s parents are unable to cosign, many students ask a grandparent or other close family member or family friend to be a cosigner.
Borrowing Student Loans with SoFi
Finding a way to finance your college education can sometimes feel solving a complicated puzzle as you slowly piece together different sources of funding.
Private student loans could be worth considering after you’ve exhausted your federal aid options, and if things like tuition payment plans aren’t financially feasible. If you decide a private student loan is a good option for you, consider SoFi as your lender.
If you qualify to borrow a private student loan with SoFi, there are no fees. The application process can be completed entirely online. You can also choose one of four flexible repayment plans for undergraduate student loans.
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.
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