1) Start by controlling costs.
If you begin planning during high school, you can greatly reduce the cost of a college education. Some money-saving tips include:
Take the Recommended High School Program to prepare for college. If you’re not academically prepared prior to enrollment, you’ll need developmental education courses before taking college-level courses. These require time and money. Developmental courses are additional classes designed to make sure that you have the reading, writing and math skills you need for success in college.
Good academic preparation really saves you. For example: If you don't have the math, reading and writing skills you need to start college, this can require 1 to 3 additional courses in each subject area. That’s 3 to 9 additional classes, or 9 to 27 semester credit hours, which means a whole year of study you’ll have to pay for. For a four-year public university, that adds up to about $15,640. Ouch!
(*Costs are based on average charges for this type of institution for fall 2005, as reported by the institutions.)
Should you need developmental courses, you can reduce your costs by almost $1,500 by taking these courses at a community college close to home.
Take college courses while you're still in high school. Many school districts have special agreements with community colleges that allow high school students to take college-level courses without paying tuition or fees. Because you're still at home, you'll save on room and board and related expenses. Be sure to talk to your counselor about it.
Take Advanced Placement (AP) classes and exams or place out of college hours by taking a CLEP exam (College-Level Examination Program). You can get college credit without paying tuition, fee charges, and living costs. You’ll also save time by cutting the number of hours you have to take—sometimes by a semester or more. For more information about Advanced Placement, visit the College Board's AP site, and to learn more about CLEP, visit the College Board's CLEP site. And ask your counselor about these programs.
Plan for college early, often and thoroughly. Switching majors can increase the amount of time you spend in college from one to four semesters.
Begin studies at a public community or technical college. You can complete your first two years of study and then transfer to a four-year college or university for your junior and senior years. Almost everyone in the state is within a 30-minute drive of a two-year community college. If you choose to begin at a community or technical college and transfer to a university, you need to pay particular attention to which courses will be accepted at the university. Be sure to check the "Transfer Guide" on this website for information on transferring credits from a two-year community college.
Here’s more good news: If you earn an associate's degree from a community college and then transfer to a Texas public university within a year, you may be eligible for the TEXAS Grant.
(Please note: Students currently attending community colleges who are not eligible for the TEXAS Grant program may be eligible for the new Texas Educational Opportunity Grant program. Visit the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant page for more information or talk to your college or university financial aid office.)
2) Know your options for paying tuition and fees.
Most colleges and universities expect you to pay tuition and fees in full prior to the first day of class. But many offer a variety of payment options to help if you’re unable to pay by cash or check. These options include:
During the fall and spring semesters, Texas public colleges and universities offer installment plans that allow students to more slowly pay their tuition and fees in full before the end of the semester.
Many private Texas colleges and universities also offer installment plans, but are not required to do so. Students receiving financial aid must first use financial aid resources to pay off an installment plan before the balance of the financial aid may be used for other purposes.
These short-term loans are offered by some Texas colleges and universities (or an alternative lender) to cover the immediate costs of tuition, fees and books. If emergency loans are offered by your college, you may be asked to sign a promissory note (an agreement to repay the loan) and generally the loan must be repaid prior to the end of the semester. Interest and penalty payments may apply.
Credit card payments
Many institutions allow you to pay your tuition and fees with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover or another major credit card. Some will limit these payments to specific credit card types (such as Visa or MasterCard) and most will charge an additional fee to cover the cost of the credit card transaction.
If you’re eligible for financial aid, most Texas colleges will allow you delay paying your tuition and fees until your financial aid funds are available.
Types of Financial aid
Here you’ll find links to the many kinds of financial aid available to students attending Texas colleges and universities. Types of Financial Aid
3) Apply for financial aid
What is FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. As the name indicates, there is no charge to apply or for the processing of your application. No matter how many schools you are applying to, you only need to fill out one FAFSA. Once your application is processed by the federal processor, you and the schools you have selected will be notified of the results. The schools then start the process of determining the funding you're eligible for. If you're not eligible to complete the FAFSA because of your immigration status, you may be eligible to complete the TASFA (the Texas Application for State Financial Aid). To find out which application you should use, just take this simple survey: "Which financial aid application should you use?"
Where can you find the FAFSA?
You can usually find the FAFSA at your high school counseling office, or you can get a copy from any college financial aid office. If you'd like to complete the application electronically, you can get the Web version on the FAFSA website. Please remember: Completing the FAFSA online is the fastest way to apply. The processing time for forms submitted online is about two weeks. The processing time for paper applications is about six to eight weeks. So click away!
When should you complete the FAFSA?
The FAFSA should be completed and processed as soon as possible after January 1 for students expecting to enroll in college in the following fall. The amount of financial aid is limited and many students apply. The sooner you complete your forms, the better your chance of getting a good financial aid package. More than $60 billion in financial aid is distributed each year, but this is not enough to meet the financial need of all college students in the United States.
How should you complete the FAFSA?
To complete the form, you and your parents will need to fill out information about your financial status (income, assets, savings, etc.). This is the same information you'd share with a bank or other lender when requesting a loan for a new car or home, and that you are required to put on your tax return each year.
4) Beware of scholarship scams.
Be on the lookout for fraudulent scholarship offers. For more information, please visit: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/scholarship/