SAVING MONEY 101
Amy Neff Roth Utica Observer-Dispatch | USA TODAY NETWORK
Giovanni Harvey grew up with a single mother but never worried about affording college. h He got expert help at a young age from programs like nonprofit On Point for College in Utica, the federal GEAR UP program and the state’s Educational Opportunity Program. h They provided Harvey, a 22-year-old senior majoring in communications at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Marcy, with the knowledge and help he needed to put together a plan that made college doable. h And when he started his freshman year at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in 2017 and couldn’t afford a bus ticket, On Point volunteers drove him to his classes until he saved up enough money to buy a car. h “If those programs hadn’t existed,” Harvey said, “I don’t know if I would have been able to afford college.”
Even with financial aid, many college students graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Kevin Marken, director of On Point for College in Utica, says there always is a way to save money and graduate with manageable debt, but it can be complicated.
Here are some tools to help students and their families work through the process and save money while ensuring their financial, professional and personal goals are met.
Get early start on cutting college costs
Get an early start on accumulating college credits by taking advantage of programs like Advanced Placement classes, college classes offered to high school students, and BOCES associate degree programs.
Through Utica University’s High School Bridge program, high school sophomores, juniors and seniors can take up to two UU classes, online or in person, each semester at $99 a class, said Jeffery Gates, senior vice president for student life and enrollment.
“If you take 10 courses throughout those last three years of high school, it’s less than $1,000 for those 10 courses,” he said, noting that those courses are equivalent to one year of college.
Although some students do finish college early, those extra credits are more often helpful by ensuring that students, such as those who change majors or transfers, can still graduate in four years, he said.
Graduating in five or six years costs more, and students also can end up paying more costs out of pocket as they lose eligibility for state and federal aid, Marken said.
Explore college options before you apply
Students need to find an environment and level of diversity that’s comfortable, Marken said, and they need a college that will prepare them for their chosen professions.
Without a good fit, students are more likely to drop out or transfer, he said. And transfers can increase the time — and expense — it takes to graduate if not all credits transfer. He recommends doing research, asking questions and taking college tours.
Put together a team — guidance counselors, admissions staff and recent graduates — for advice and feedback.
Ask guidance counselors about scholarship options. Many communities, groups and employers offer special scholarships, possibly for hometown kids, for students interested in a particular field of study or students who have participated in certain extracurricular activities.
On Point has a formal program for low-income and first-generation college students, starting in their junior year of high school and continuing for anyone of any age who wants to go to college. But it also offers free advice, including on the dreaded Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to anyone.
Don’t rule out private colleges
Don’t rule out private colleges just because they’re more expensive on paper. Many have big endowments and offer generous scholarships, Marken said. Apply to some private and a few SUNY colleges, then compare their financial aid packages. A few private schools have even changed their prices. Utica University cut its tuition by 42% in 2016 and later brought down its room and board costs to about $12,000 a year, making it about $5,000 a year cheaper than most other schools, Gates said.
“We heard loud and clear from families that they never even considered applying to Utica because the price tag was out of their reach,” he said.
Some private colleges, including Hamilton College in Clinton and Colgate University in Hamilton, offer every accepted student a financial aid package that covers the difference between what a family can afford to pay and what it costs to attend the school.
For Hamilton, too, financial aid doesn’t just cover tuition, room and board, but also the out-of-pocket costs of attendance, such as transportation, textbooks and personal supplies, said Cameron Feist, associate vice president for enrollment management and director of financial aid.
Students should graduate with, at the most, $19,000 of federal subsidized loan debt, he said.
Consider online, commuter options
Starting at a community college and transferring to a four-year college also can save thousands of dollars if the transfer school accepts all the community college credits, Marken said.
Check for articulation agreements between two- and four-year colleges, which guarantee that all credits will transfer.
Online classes also could save money if they cost less per credit and if they let students live at home instead of in a dorm, Gates said.
“But you have to be a really serious student to be online,” he said. “You have to be motivated.”
Choosing a college close to home or close to the home of a relative or friend can save a lot of money on room and board — living at home, Marken said, could lower your debt by $50,000.
Check out public transportation routes and passes; you might not need to buy a car, Marken said. Or try ride sharing or taking classes that meet on the same days so you don’t have to drive in five days a week.
Cost-saving opportunities don’t end with the first day of school, Marken said.
Continue to ask your college’s financial aid office about scholarship and financial aid opportunities and take advantage of tutoring and any other help your college offers to make sure you pass classes.
A failed class could mean more time in college, more money and the end of some aid.
Harvey will graduate in December. Life circumstances have dragged his college experience beyond four years, but with all the help he’s found, he’ll still graduate in a manageable financial situation.
Most college students likely will graduate with some debt. “But the amount that the debt is, because of these programs,” he said, “is far less than it would have been if I strictly had to rely on a mixture of public and private loans to go to school.”
Amy Roth covers issues that affect families for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Amy Roth at aroth@gannett. com.