Six Rules for Paying for College
It's no secret that these days, college costs are over the top. But with a little planning, you'd be surprised at what you can accomplish. UNCF president Michael Lomax points the way.
Fifth, know your options for borrowing to pay for college. Given that college graduates earn substantially more than those without college degrees, a student loan can be a wise investment in your future. Start by contacting the financial aid office at the college you are considering. Find out what kinds of loans they offer. Look into the Perkins and Stafford loans, two low-interest federal loan programs.
Find out if your career aspirations, such as working as a teacher, make you eligible to have part of your loan canceled. Borrow only what you need to pay for education. Too many students borrow to pay for cars or clothes or don't think about how they will repay their loans, and wind up borrowing more than they can reasonably pay back. You don't want to be over-leveraged before you've even graduated. There are also low-interest federal loans for parents, PLUS loans, which help parents meet the cost of financing their children's college education.
Sixth, save as much as you can, because you will need it. Ideally, parents should start saving for college when their child is very young. Depending on in which state you live, you may be able to take advantage of a 529 college savings plan. But if you cannot save much and start saving late -- even when your student is already in high school -- don't let that discourage you. Saving, even a little, makes planning for college more real for students and their families, gets everyone invested in the process and reinforces the reality that going to college means sacrificing now for a benefit in the future.
These six rules may make an already difficult process seem even more daunting, but once students and their families start to work on their financial planning, it will become an integral part of their college preparation. Like so many important decisions in life, making the right decisions about college is tough, but planning will serve students and their families well. And planning for how you will pay for college is the first step in ensuring that the bills will get paid so that you or your child won't just attend college but will also graduate.
This academic year, more than 3 million African Americans will pursue a postsecondary degree, but only 40 percent will earn a college degree in six years. If we are to meet the ambitious goal that President Obama has set for our nation to re-establish itself as the number one producer of college graduates, we will need to improve the college-completion rate in our community. To do that, we will need more African Americans to be academically -- and financially -- prepared for college.
Michael Lomax is president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.