It’s no secret that college is expensive, but with a little planning, the cost of higher education does not have to be overly burdensome on Oklahomans' wallets.
Students have other expenses besides tuition, including payments for housing, books, personal expenses, and transportation. With September being National College Savings Month, it might be an appropriate time for parents or prospective scholars to look into how they can manage the ever-rising cost of college tuition and extra fees.
Teri Cochran, director of Student Financial Services at Northeastern State University, recommends always searching out the free money first.
“This is money that does not need to be repaid, such as scholarships and grants,” said Cochran. “Search out scholarships you may qualify for from your college and other resources, and be aware of the deadlines.”
Most families require financial assistance to send a kid to attend college. That help could be found by applying for a federal financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year, which becomes available Oct. 1. Cochran said the FAFSA is the initiation application to federal grants, loans, and work-study programs, and that some programs have limited funding, so students should make sure to apply early.
Most colleges have programs to employ students, so they can earn cash during their time living on campus. Work-study jobs give direct payments to students. Those who don’t qualify for work-study programs could also find part-time jobs.
The tale of the broke college student is long, and it’s not uncommon for first-year students to realize how much their daily activities cost until it is too late. So students should be watchful of how they spend the dollars they do have.
“Make smart choices for classes and try to graduate in four years or less by working closely with your academic adviser,” said Cochran. “Keep track of your expenses. Be mindful pf what you spend on personal expenses and entertainment.”
A 529 college savings plan offers tax and financial aid benefits, and the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is celebrating its 20 years of operation by offering a $25 match for any new account opened with at least $25 and three straight months of contributions of $25 or more from now until Dec. 31.
“For 20 years, OCSP has helped families prepare their children for exceptional learning opportunities and skill-building with a college education,” said State Treasurer Randy McDaniel. “As we look to the next 20 years, we are building off that success by encouraging more parents to open accounts early and build a strong foundation of prioritizing education for their children.”
The state-sponsored program allows people to take advantage of state income tax deduction, and offers investment opportunities. Since January, the plan has held over $1 billion in contributions for Oklahoma's children’s college savings. The earnings are Oklahoma income tax-free when used for higher education expenses, and funds can be used at most private or public universities, colleges or career technology centers.
Check it out
More information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is available at www.ok4saving.org. For info on federal financial aid, visit FAFSA.gov. And another resource to help people plan for college is okcollegestart.org, where information about scholarships, financial aid, and budgeting can be found.