How to Financially Prepare for Earning Your College Degree

With college costs soaring, many students are trepidatious about the financial aspect of earning a degree. This is not surprising, when the College Board estimates that the average year of college tuition at a private college costs almost $35,000. Add to that the cost of room and board, books, transportation, and all the other things that make up the true cost of college tuition, and the cost really starts to add up. Fortunately, as savvy students across the country are learning, it is possible to financially prepare for earning a college degree.

The first question to ask, of course, is whether or not a college degree is worth the investment. Before setting down the kind of outlay required to earn a degree, people want to know that the money they spend will yield a significant return on investment. According to recent research, a college education absolutely pays off.

  • Degree holders have, on average, higher salaries and more opportunities for investment. The average salary for a high school graduate is not quite $31,000, while a college graduate can expect a salary of nearly twice that: $56, 665. That salary more than doubles with further learning and the average salary of a person with a professional degree is currently estimated at about $128,000.
  • Unemployment rates are lower for college graduates than the general public. Even in times of recession, research shows, degree holders are less likely to be unemployed. Currently, people without a high school diploma face an unemployment rate of 11%, while those who have successfully completed high school are at 7.5 percent. Compare that to the 4% unemployment rate of a person with a bachelor’s degree and you’ll see that earning a degree makes you far more likely to hold a job. What’s more, that likelihood increases with each additional degree so that those with a master’s degree have an unemployment rate of 3.4%, and that rate is just over 2% for people with a doctoral or professional degree.
  • Some benefits of college aren’t monetary. Higher earnings lead to a better quality of life and better jobs lead to more job satisfaction. What’s more, a college education builds intellectual knowledge and skills that help people make well-informed decisions, improving our society.

Even if you’re convinced that college is worth the money, you still have to find a way to pay for it. To do that, you have to make a plan – know what you can expect to spend, take a hard look at your budget, and look for sources of funding beyond your paycheck or savings.

  • First, calculate the cost of college. At Upper Iowa University, for example, the tuition for a full-time student at our Fayette Campus is $29,600 annually. There’s also a student fee, meal plans, housing costs, books and other course-related expenses to consider. Multiplied over four years, that’s a substantial sum. It’s important to make note of all the fees you’re going to encounter, and perhaps even build in a buffer, before you make your budget.
  • Look for ways to reduce that initial number. If you’re a high school student or have a child in high school, look for classes that can reduce the time you’ll need to spend in college. If you are a student who has already been out of school for a while, you may be able to get credits for experiential learning. UIU accepts up to 30 college credits for some prior training and experiences. Some students may also be able to receive college credit for training completed in the military, law enforcement, fire science training, or other formal training. CLEP, DSST, Excelsior College, and/or ACT-PEP examinations can also help students earn college credit.
  • Become well-acquainted with counselors and advisors at your intended university. Your advisor can help you to determine which credits will best enable you to reach your educational goals. Your financial aid and admissions counselors can help you find money to pay for that education. Take advantage of the resources provided by the school and be proactive on your own behalf. In some cases, students can get a better financial aid package just by making an appeal to have that package reviewed.
  • Research sources of money for education. Student loans and grants are available, but they're not the only option. UIU can help you apply for several different scholarships. For additional information about Upper Iowa’s many scholarships, visit the Scholarship page on the University website. Oftentimes, churches, local businesses and civic groups also have scholarship money available, and sometimes you can find a scholarship provided by an organization associated with your field of interest. Another helpful resources to help you find scholarships is this scholarship search tool, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. Among these sources, you might find assistance through your job or your parent’s job, because many employers offer college benefits to their full-time employees. Upper Iowa University also has agreements in place with a number of corporations that offer their employees scholarships for taking UIU courses online or attending one of our education centers.
  • Make the most of job opportunities. A summer job might not pay for your whole year of college tuition, but it can take a considerable bite out of it. You may not want to work and go to school, but if the right opportunity presents itself, it could be a great way to graduate with little to no debt.
  • Consider alternatives to full-time, on-campus education. You don’t have to be a traditional student to get a college degree: credits earned in nontraditional ways count just as much as if you were living in the dorm and attending class full time. You might consider looking for inexpensive housing and commuting to school, or taking online courses, also known as “distance education.” Upper Iowa is a nationally recognized leader in distance education offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. This is a flexible option because global access is available, with no need for students to be on campus. In fact, we serve degree-seeking students from around the world through our award-winning distance learning Online Program or our Self-Paced Degree Program.

When you’ve created a plan and you’re ready to earn a college degree, you owe it to yourself to check out Upper Iowa University. Established in 1857, UIU has a rich history and a student-centered mission that has made it a recognized innovator in higher education. Offering accredited, quality programs through flexible systems, UIU is invested in helping students succeed. To learn more, call 800.553.4150, email us or contact us through our website.