5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to College: Loophole Edition

With the recent news of a loophole where parents transferred guardianship of their children to relatives, friends, and co-workers to get more financial aid from colleges, I started thinking how far has higher education come where wealthy families are seeking loopholes in order to receive more financial assistance.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think what these families did and are continuing to do (don’t forget little Johnny from the rich suburbs of Chicago is still receiving his government assistance to attend a school that cost $60,000 a year)is sleazy and ethically wrong. But, to an extent, I can see where they are coming from. College is expensive. I work at a large division one institution and I feel bad for students who have to work 3 jobs outside of being a full-time student to pay for school. I feel even worse for those who are taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt just so they can “pursue their dream”. It sucks. Are these families so blinded by their privilege that they cannot see the thousands of dollars they are stealing from students like these? Absolutely. Yet, at the end of the day I can see why anyone would seek a loophole like this because, well, college is outrageously expensive. Because of this, I am going to give you some tips to avoid paying outrageous amounts of money to attend college.

1. Take Dual-Credit and AP Courses in High School

For many students, this is already a reality. Over the years I have seen more and more students bring in both dual-credit and AP scores to college. For those who are not familiar with these terms, dual-credit is basically an alternative to normal high school, except your classes count as college credit and are run through a local community college. For example, many students take English Language and English Composition courses for dual-credit to use as credit for their intro to writing and literature courses. Others take dual-credit courses in science, math, history or all of thee above. The options are endless (kinda).

Another alternative or addition to dual-credit are AP courses. AP courses are universal throughout the U.S and are generally one school year long. Like dual-credit, AP courses can vary from Psychology to Statistics. What your high school offers will vary depending on the school and what teachers can/are willing to teach. At the end of the school year you sign-up to take a final test issued by the AP testing services. Your final score will range from 1–5 with 5 being the highest. In most cases, you will need a 3 to get some sort of credit for it. However, based on what subject your AP test is in, a higher score can cover more credits. Lets use Biology as an example. If you score a 3 you may only receive credit for an Intro to Biology course, but if you score a 5 you could get credit for two Biology courses. Pretty sweet, huh? You can literally get rewarded for performing better on a test.

It is important to note that specific credits from both dual-credit and AP courses may only apply to your specific degree and college. Every school interprets these credits differently, so if you know where you want to go to school, it may be worth doing some research before signing up for dual-credit and AP courses.

2. Consider Community College

Community college is one thing I wish I would have done before going to a four year school. Many community colleges, especially in bigger cities, offer a ton of accredited core coursework that can be transferred to four year institutions at a fraction of the price. In many cases you can finish your first two years at a community college and then take your final two years at another school. Economically, this makes a lot of sense — especially if you are looking to attend a state or public institution. Private schools accept some credits from community colleges, but, depending on the school, can be a bit pickier on what counts towards a degree. Like mentioned in the previous point, if you know where you want to get your four year degree from, contact their registrar and see what courses can be transferred from your local community college.

Bonus Tip: If you like the idea of attending community college out of high school or want to finish up your undergraduate degree as fast as possible, consider taking dual-credit in high school from a local community college and then finishing your associates after you graduate from that same community college.

3. Know Before You Go

Society has conditioned us to think that we need to go to college straight after high school. The results? Millions of students graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no passion for the degree they have. The pressure that high school students face to go to college today is simply unfair. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING wrong with waiting to go to college. Or to not go at all. There are plenty of careers in other fields that are just as satisfying, well-paying, and fun. In many cases, technical school may be even more beneficial than a traditional four-year degree. The world is in dire need and is willing to pay well for young talent in various technical fields.

Tied to the idea of needing to go to college is the myth that you should spend your time figuring out what you want to do AT college. This is simply wrong. If you have dreamed of being a doctor since you were five and already know where you want go, what you want to do, and how you are going to do it, great. But, before you make that leap learn more about different programs that interest you AND look at the career opportunities for that degree. A great resource for this is the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. This site shows the median pay, requirements, and future job growth for varying careers. If you want to be a respiratory therapy technician, I would consider a different career as they are projected to decline in jobs opportunities over the next 7 yers by over 50%. A job that might be for you is a radiation therapist, which has a median income of $80,000, has a positive job growth outcome, and only requires an associates degree. Bottom line, do some research before you pay $80,000 for a degree in something you don’t like or can’t live off of.

4. Seek Financial Aid

This one may come across as obvious, but for many this can be the most confusing part. Finding aid through standard FASFA and school applications is great, but going beyond that can save you thousands of dollars in the future. There are hundreds of ways to get financial assistant for school. Company’s like Starbucks, UPS, Chipotle, and many others will offer tuition assistance for full and part-time employees. Each of these companies has its own caveat to it, so make sure you understand the terms before jumping in. Local non-profits may have scholarship opportunities that only requires a written letter or volunteer service. Sites like Fastweb help students find grants and scholarships for students. You can even find unique opportunities within your school to receive additional scholarships. Work studies, teaching assistant, and student leadership positions will pay you in scholarship money.

Another route can be through athletics. Now, for those of you who may not be all that athletic, fear not. Some smaller schools may need students to join their team and are willing to add anyone who is remotely athletic. For example, when I was in school I had a friend who was encouraged to throw javelin on the track team. Had he ever thrown javelin in his life? Nope. Were they willing to offer him thousands of dollars in scholarships to do so? Yup. With that being said, don’t expect to walk on to the University of Alabama’s football team as a kicker and get offered the position. This tip will primarily work at smaller schools.

For those looking to earn a graduate degree, there are hundreds of positions that open up each year for graduate assistants. These positions typically come with an annual stipend, housing, some sort of meal plan, and free tuition. Larger schools may even provide health insurance. And while this may seem too good to be true, this is an extremely viable option, especially if you are wanting a career in higher education. Typically, graduate assistants serve as assistant coaches, resident directors, accounting assistants, or other entry level positions. Sites like higheredjobs post new openings every day for careers in higher education, including graduate assistant positions.

5. Do Well in High School

My final piece of advice may seem obvious, but take your grades seriously in high school. The difference between receiving $5,000 and $15,000 a year in scholarships can be the difference between a B+ and A average GPA. Schools hand out a lot of money to students who do well in high school. After all, this tells them that you take your academics seriously, so they will gladly hand over free money to have you. For some, this may be the easiest and most attainable way to get more scholarship money. So, before you start pursuing these other ways of obtaining scholarship money, evaluate how you are doing in high school and push yourself in your current classes. We all know those students who try really hard in class and may have a bad reputation for sucking up to the teacher. But at the end of the day, they may be paying off their student loans decades before everyone else — simply because they tried hard in high school.

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I like video games, work in higher education, and love food.

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