Managing your student loan debt
By Cindy Miller, director, Columbia College-Kansas City
Google “hot topics in higher education,” and the first link that pops up is related to student loan debt. Student debt has become one of the fastest growing problems in the United States today. The website www.debt.org indicates that total student loan debt now tops an astonishing $1.2 trillion, which equates to an average debt load of $33,000 per student. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that you don’t have to end up with that kind of debt here. In fact, the typical loan debt for a Columbia College graduate is about $22,500, 32 percent less than the national average!
Here are some ways you can keep your loan debt in check while you are going to school:
Live like a college student — use student loan funds only to pay for direct educational costs.
Save money — look for areas you can cut while you are in college, like leisure and entertainment expenses.
Corporate tuition reimbursement — contact your supervisor or HR office to see if you qualify.
Become more “financially literate” — use the great resources available through our Financial Aid office to aggressively track your loan debt.
Stay the course — before you consider a change of degree or major, talk to your advisor to see the impact any additional coursework has on your educational costs.
Seek out and apply for scholarships — our website has many resources to guide you to a wealth of available scholarships and grants. Look at your community affiliations and see if there are funding opportunities through your church, volunteer groups or outside organizations.
The bottom line, however, is that you are here to complete an education that will get you into your specific chosen career. With a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in your hand, your median earning potential is as much as 75 percent higher than a person with a high school diploma. Be smart about your student loan debt, but keep pushing toward your degree!
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Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Up to half of incoming college students don’t know what they want to major in, and many more will change their minds during the course of their undergraduate studies. Even if you do have a handle on what subject you want to specialize in, it can be a tall task to figure out how that will translate into a career.
The Grossnickle Career Services Center at Columbia College has your back, along with a bevy of resources to help you along the way.
You can email the center at email@example.com or call (573) 875-7425 to make an appointment with a career specialist to discuss your options or get help connecting with Columbia College alumni in the fields in which you’re interested. Alumni can be invaluable sources for information and networking purposes. The Grossnickle Career Services Center website also contains links to pages for guidance on what jobs certain majors prepare you for and in-depth information on professions under its “Major/Career Exploration” section.
Being a Columbia College student also grants you access to a free online career assessment tool called “Focus 2.” The system puts you through nine phases of evaluation that are designed to assess your interests, skills, personality, values and recreational activities to help you map out a path for both your educational and career aspirations. Simply contact the Grossnickle Career Services Center for a user name and password to get started.
Not everyone has it all figured out. Not everyone even has a good idea of where to start. If you fall into one of those categories, let Columbia College be your partner in the process.
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From: Ready. Aim. Hire.
When most people think of free money for college, they think scholarships. Scholarships are financial awards that are based on academic merit or other criteria that must be met in order to be eligible for funding. These funds are similar to grants in that you will not be required to pay any of the money back. Billions of scholarship dollars are awarded annually to U.S. students attending college. What might surprise you is that due to a lack of applications, some funds are never awarded. Can you imagine? The money is just sitting in a lonely bank account somewhere, wishing for a worthy scholarship applicant. Let’s find that money a good home.
You can be considered for a scholarship for any of the following reasons (and more):
- Academic performance
- Athletic achievement
- Financial need (the FAFSA will be needed)
- Religious affiliation
- Minority status
- Major of study
- Community affiliations
Be sure to read the directions and criteria for each scholarship carefully. Many scholarships require that the FAFSA be completed first, so do it early each year (as soon as you complete your tax filings). Also, pay attention to deadlines. Many scholarships have early deadlines, but there are plenty of scholarships that award funds later in the year. Scared of writing an essay? Don’t be. Have someone you trust look it over and provide feedback, or take it to your college writing center for further analysis. Tweak your letter so it’s good, but make sure you don’t edit out your own style and voice. After all, it’s YOU these scholarships want to read. Not someone else.
Scholarships funded by your college or university are known as institutional aid. Some are automatically awarded to you and do not require a scholarship application. Others require a submission of some sort in order to be reviewed (application, letter, essay, etc.). Take a look at your college’s financial aid page for more information about what types of scholarships are available.
National scholarships (sometimes called outside or external scholarships) are scholarships awarded by organizations outside of the college or university and are typically open to anyone that meets their criteria. Most people ignore national scholarships because they assume the application pool is too large and they won’t qualify. In reality, the pool is much smaller than one would think. Go to reputable scholarship sites such as Fastweb.com and CollegeBoard.org to find some great scholarships. Be careful of unknown sites that look sketchy, otherwise the only thing you’ll be awarded are viruses and a stolen identity. Not cool. When in doubt, ask a financial aid representative at your school for help.
Local organizations have money to give away, too! Get the information you need on local scholarship funds by visiting your local library or visitor’s bureau if your area has one. The librarian or bureau employee may not know specifics but could provide you with information on organizations in your area that you can research on your own. Again, don’t ever hesitate to chat with your financial aid representative.
Why do the hard work when your school can do it for you? Columbia College’s scholarship finder tool is a great way to access national and local scholarships without hunting all over the place. There are hundreds of potential scholarships listed there as well as a few reputable third-party sites like the ones mentioned earlier.
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Most students don’t put a lot of thought into selling back their textbooks. Once the class is done, it’s usually out of sight, out of mind. But this is something you can think about even while you are shopping for your books.
If you approach the process of selling back your books shrewdly, you can maximize your returns. You’re never going to recoup the whole cost of the books. Their values degrade with the wear and tear of a semester. But you can take some steps to make sure you’re getting the most that you can.
Rachel Smith, Student Success Advisor at Columbia College, has three main things to keep in mind when you go to sell back your books.
- See if the college bookstore will buy them back and at what price: Sometimes you can get a guaranteed buyback price through the bookstore when you purchase it, but you have a limited amount of time to sell that book back.
- Don’t forget to check and see if you might need that book for a future course: For example, Accounting I and II might use the same book. No need to sell your book until you have finished Accounting II.
- Take time to think about if this book will provide value in the future: Will you continue to reference the book or purchase another reference down the road? Don’t sell your books just for the sake of selling your books if it will cost you more in the future.
The site MoneyCrashers.com also has a story titled “How & Where to Sell Used College Textbooks for Cash” that offers some helpful tips.
- Clean up your book before selling it
- Call around and check online to see which outlets may be offering more for your books
- Wait until the start of the next semester to sell, rather than unloading them right after finals
- See if you can set up trades with fellow classmates who will be taking the course in the future and have taken one of your upcoming courses
And be sure to email the Department of Student Success at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (573) 875-7860 or visit web.ccis.edu/offices/student-success.aspx for more tips on time management, study habits, financial awareness and more.
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By now, you’ve had your first experience registering for classes in Columbia College’s new six-session, three-semester academic structure. As a quick refresher, the college added an extra session to the school year make for “Early” and “Late” eight-week academic periods in each of the Fall, Spring and Summer semesters. This allows students more flexibility in navigating their way through a Columbia College education as well as giving them the option of completing their degrees in a more timely manner: associate degrees can be completed in 20 months, bachelor’s degrees in 3 ½ years and master’s degrees in as little as 12 months.
With the Early Fall session already underway, you can begin turning your attention to the Late Fall session and the rest of the academic year. Some of you may have already applied for your Late Fall classes over the summer, as registration opened in July and the new structure allows students to register for two sessions at a time. For those of you who didn’t, the Late Fall session starts October 24, and registration will continue until Wednesday of the first week of classes (October 26).
One of the biggest changes for Nationwide, Evening and Online and graduate students is your eligibility for federal direct loan programs. The amount of credit hours you need to be enrolled in each semester to be eligible for federal loans — at least six for undergraduate, at least three for graduate — is the same as before. The main change is that students must be enrolled in the credit hour threshold before any loan funds can be disbursed for that semester.
If you’re an undergraduate student who is already registered for, let’s say, three credit hours in both the Early and Late Fall sessions, then you’re in the clear. If you registered for less than six credit hours in the Early Fall session and have yet to register for any in the Late Fall, you’ll need to bring your total for the Fall semester up to at least six credit hours before you see any direct loan funds.
If you are receiving a Pell Grant, There will be no changes to the annual Pell Grant maximums available, and Pell funds will continue to be disbursed at the start of each class session for which you enroll, just like before.
Even though the Fall semester has just begun, it’s never too early to start planning ahead for the Spring. Registration for both the Early and Late Spring sessions will begin in late November, about five weeks before the Spring semester starts January 2. You don’t have to enroll for two sessions at a time but doing so helps you take advantage of the accelerated track to a degree that the Six Sessions initiative allows students.
The more you plan ahead, the easier it will be to get a head start on your future. For more information on Six Sessions or to send in a question to Columbia College staff, check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.
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