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Student Loan Companies are Failing College Graduates in a Crucial Way

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The vast majority of student loan borrowers who default and rehabilitate their loans are set up to fail again because of bad advice, a new government study claims.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says a stunning 9 out of 10 of these high-risk borrowers were not enrolled in affordable repayment plans, such as income-driven repayment — meaning their monthly payments were much higher than they had to be. Predictably, those borrowers were five times more likely to re-default on their loans, racking up $125 million in unnecessary interest charges along the way.

Conversely, students who were enrolled in income-driven repayment plans, which reduce payments based on the borrower’s income, were much less likely to have trouble making on-time payments. Fewer than one in 10 re-defaulted when enrolled in income-derived repayment, the CFPB said.

Loan servicers are responsible for informing borrowers about their options, but the CFPB has alleged previously that they do a poor job of it.

A Government Accountability Office report in 2015 found that while 51% of borrowers were eligible for a repayment program that could lower their payments, only about 15% were enrolled in it. The CFPB complaint database is littered with allegations that servicers make enrollment unnecessarily hard. And earlier this year, the CFPB and the state of Illinois both sued Navient — the nation’s largest servicer — and alleged the firm systematically failed to inform borrowers of their options. (Navient denied the allegation.)

Tuesday’s report focuses on a more narrow group — those who had stopped paying their student loans but had recently restarted payments and “rehabilitated” them. The group, which consists of about 600,000 borrowers, is considered the riskiest of the 43 million Americans who owe student loans.

Their plight shows the system is broken, said CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman.

“For far too many student loan borrowers, the dream of a fresh start turns into a nightmare of default and deeper debt,” Frotman said. “When student loan companies know that nearly half of their highest-risk customers will quickly fail, it’s time to fix the broken system that makes this possible.”

The Student Loan Servicing Association, a trade group that represents servicers, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Roughly one in three student loan borrowers are late to some degree on their monthly payments. The Department of Education estimates that more than 8 million federal student loan borrowers have gone at least 12 months without making a required monthly payment and have fallen into default.

At-risk borrowers should know there are multiple programs designed to help them avoid default — income-contingent repayment, income-based repayment, and “pay as you earn” are all designed to keep payments at between 10% and 20% of income. Some offer payments as low as $5 per month, depending on income.

Details are available at the Department of Education website. Consumers should not take advice from websites claiming to offer student loan help — many are scams — but should instead contact their loan servicers directly.

Bob Sullivan
Bob Sullivan |

Bob Sullivan is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Bob here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Strategies to Save

13 College Costs You Don’t Think About

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When families think of financing a college education, they usually think about covering tuition costs. It’s easy to home in on tuition — after all, it’s an obvious, in-your-face expense. But tuition and fees don’t make up the largest portion of the average cost of college attendance.

In the College Board’s most recent Trends in College Pricing, researchers found non-tuition-related expenses at public four-year schools account for 61% of a total $24,610 average cost of attendance.

Here are a few hidden college costs for families to consider before the school year starts.

Housing

Room and board make up about 42% of the total cost of attendance at four-year public institutions, according to the College Board. After tuition, housing is the second-largest expense students will encounter.

For students who choose (or for whom it is required) to live in on-campus housing, room and board might be a non-negotiable expense. The cost to live in a dorm can vary from as low as $5,326 for the school year to more than $18,000 according to U.S. News Short List rankings. Generally speaking, it’s cheaper to live on campus in areas with higher rent, while off-campus housing is cheaper in areas with lower rental costs.

Other on-campus living requirements such as enrollment in the school’s meal plan, a security deposit, and dorm fees can also add up.

Don’t assume the university’s housing cost estimate is correct, as schools use different factors to calculate costs. A 2015 Trulia analysis found “schools often underestimate the cost of off-campus housing, sometimes by thousands of dollars for the school term.” For example, the University of California, Berkeley, estimates a student would spend $7,184 to live off campus, while Trulia’s data showed it would cost $12,375 for two students to share a two-bedroom apartment for nine months.

Tips to save on off-campus housing:

Compare costs to on-campus housing. Depending on where you attend school, a 9- or 12-month off-campus lease plus utilities and internet might actually be more expensive than room and board in a university dorm.

Look for roommates to help ease the burden of utilities and other bills.

Use search engines like Uloop and College Student Apartments to filter through housing options near your school and find even more savings.

Furniture and decor

Plan to budget a few hundred bucks for furniture and decor. If you’re lucky, your dorm or apartment might include a few pieces of furniture. Even then, you’ll need bedding, curtains, linens, and other staples. Plan to spend funds on furniture and decorations to make the new space feel like home.

The good news is that any college town where students are constantly moving in and leaving each year are great for the resellers market. Check out Craigslist in your area to save on furniture, or resale sites like AptDeco, Furnishare, or Furnishly. Facebook’s new marketplace feature is a good idea, too.

Pro tip: Consider starting a college registry. Target’s College Registry offers a 15% discount on any items that aren’t purchased. Also, don’t forget your student ID card. Some retailers may offer student discounts.

Parking fees

If you plan to commute or keep a vehicle on campus, set aside money for parking ahead of time. Schools typically offer a range of parking packages for students. For example, student parking permits at Boston University go for as low as $266.40 per school year for evening commuters, to $1,905.50 for those who live on campus and need to park overnight.

You may be required to pay a lump sum for parking at the beginning of each semester. Check if your school prices parking passes by location. If they do, research on-campus transit. You may be able to pay for cheaper parking farther from your classes, then hop on campus transit to class. Consider cheaper parking options like city parking lots or curbside options if there are any nearby.

Study abroad and other travel

College years are prime time for travel. Whether you’re hitting the beach with friends on spring break or considering an extended study abroad program, you could easily spend thousands of dollars on travel over the course of four years.

Study abroad programs, complete with room, board, instruction, and sometimes internships, can get pricey. For example, Northwestern University estimates a year studying abroad in Brazil to costs about $21,000 for students, while a summer abroad in the University of Georgia’s UGA en Buenos Aires program costs $4,294, plus about $3,000 in tuition and fees.

Often, students finance study abroad trips with financial aid. Just think it through before you take on more debt, especially if you’ve taken on a lot of student debt already. Many school study abroad offices offer scholarships for students. Another good source is Cappex.com, which tracks college scholarships.

Food

The average college and university charges about $4,500, or $18.75 per day, for a three-meal-a-day dining contract for a typical 8- or 9-month academic year, according to the Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit education news site.

If you want to use the meal plan but the standard campus meal plan is too expensive or wasteful for your budget, you could find savings in a lower-cost plan. Many post-secondary institutions offer lower-cost meal plan packages. Schools may also require first-year students or those living on campus to sign up for a meal plan, but allow upperclassmen and commuters to decide to what extent — if at all — they want to participate.

For example, at New York University, a student can pay $2,800 per semester for an all-access meal plan (28 meals per week) or as little as $1,210 per semester for a so-called “flex” plan (5 meals per week).

Books, fees, and supplies

Textbooks and class fees don’t come cheap. The average full-time student at a four-year public institution will spend $1,298 per year on books and supplies, according to the College Board.

Sometimes, fees come as a surprise. In an ongoing study, Wisconsin HOPE Lab researchers tracked the cost experiences of students at four public universities in Wisconsin. At one school, students on the waiting list for a required English course that was full were told to sign up for the online version. Without a heads up, the students were charged an unexpected $250 online course fee.

A student might also need to purchase special equipment or software essential to a course or course of study. Science and technology courses may tack on lab fees, while art students may shell out cash for studio time or class materials.

If you can get hold of a course syllabus early, you should. Don’t only look for what’s required to pass. Check carefully for any fees or payments needed to take the course before you show up. If you can’t get a copy of the syllabus and are unsure, you can usually reach the professor to ask via email.

Your family’s changing financial picture

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You could be surprised by a rise in your cost of attendance if you or your family’s financial picture changes.

The effects of this scenario are demonstrated in the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study, a six-year-long investigation of how Pell Grant recipients attending public institutions in Wisconsin experienced the price of higher education conducted by the HOPE Lab.

Researchers found the financial burden on students grows over time as tuition rises and families experience financial changes. Twenty percent of students in the study experienced a median $1,215 hike in the Expected Family Contribution — how much of the cost of attendance their household was expected to pay after their first year. When your EFC grows, it means you’re likely to be awarded less financial aid.

Many students, they found, also lost eligibility for the Pell Grant and other aid dependent on Pell eligibility.

Dried-up scholarships and grants

Additionally, students usually receive the most financial aid for their first year of college, but scholarships and grants may not stick around for all four years. They could be allotted for the first year only, or a student may lose academic or financial eligibility. Many universities use “front loading” to attract freshman to the school. They recruit incoming freshman with grants and scholarships and may not continue to fund grants for continuing students. On average this increases the net price from the first to second year of college by about $1,400.

Contact your school’s financial aid office early on if you expect a change in income to affect your EFC, as you may be able to explain your situation in an appeal. If you receive a scholarship or grant, carefully scrutinize the terms to make sure you know how long the money will last and what you’ll need to do to keep the award.

A new laptop

For many courses, having a laptop or access to a personal computer is crucial to success. Be prepared to pay $700 to $1,500 for that success, depending on the specs you need to excel in your major.

Some of the pricing is dependent on the laptop’s operating system. Students can get a Google computer for a couple of hundred dollars or a PC for less than $700, while an Apple Macbook Air starts at about $1,000. Always ask about a student discount. Some retailers like Apple offer discounted education pricing models for students and educators. Others, like Best Buy, periodically send out a newsletter with college student deals. You could save hundreds just by leveraging your student status.

Try using the school’s computers to complete work outside of class if they come with the software you need already loaded. You may also be able to rent laptops, tablets, cameras, and other technology from your school or local retailers. If you need to purchase software, and it can be downloaded on multiple computers, you could share a login with a classmate to share and split the cost.

Club and organization fees

Socializing comes at a price in college. Campus organizations often charge membership dues ($10-$25 at the low end), but it can get much more expensive for students looking to enter a sorority or fraternity. UCLA estimates the average annual cost of room, board, and dues to be about $7,650 for sororities and $8,328 for fraternities. That’s before adding in all of the other membership costs like clothing and fees to attend social functions.

While in an organization, there will likely be multiple occasions when you would need to buy merchandise, gifts, or clothing for events. If you’re into sports, for example, you may want to participate in an intramural sports league. You might need to pay a league fee, then purchase equipment and a team uniform.

Overall, keep your budget top of mind when faced with these opportunities. You might think twice about handing over thousands to your new “brothers” if it means skipping meals later on in the semester.

Internships


Internships — especially unpaid ones — can get expensive. Internships present a great opportunity for students to connect with others in their selected field and learn on-the-job skills, but they don’t pay much. For a student financing their education alone, an unpaid or low-paying internship could mean a missed opportunity. You could get offered the internship of your dreams with a large company, then have to turn it down if the pay is too little to cover your living costs.

Let’s say you accept an unpaid part-time summer internship offer (in exchange for course credit) from a firm in an expensive city like Los Angeles. It may be nearly impossible to make ends meet without financial assistance from your family or loans. Yes, you could probably cover some costs with another part-time position, or save money by staying in co-living community like Purehouse, but you’ll be scraping by to eat decent food or do anything outside of work.

The most competitive and best-paying internships are quickly filled. Apply to paid internships early on if an unpaid internship is out of the question. Periodically check for paid spring and summer internships with fall semester deadlines. Look for internships close to campus or your family to offset costs. If the internship is in another city, check to see if you have family or friends you can stay with for the time.

“Fun”

Social events present great opportunities to connect outside of class with others in your major or cohort. However, being a social butterfly is a quick way to deplete any bank account.

For example, student season tickets for the 2016 Ohio State football season ran students $180 to attend all five Big Ten conference games. To attend an additional two conference games, students would need to purchase a $252 package. That’s before you spend money on food, drinks, and an outfit for the pre-game tailgate.

You only have four to six years to make long-lasting relationships in college that could affect the rest of your life, so it’s understandable to feel pressure to attend parties, hang out at bars, go to dinners, and other activities. However, you could go broke or get into debt if you’re not careful.

Look for free or low-cost events to attend, then be selective about which events and activities are worth it for your budget. Keep an eye on your spending and always ask if you can save money on meals, clothes, or events with a student ID discount. You might get teased for seeming “cheap,” but you could avoid putting these expenses on a credit card.

Health insurance and medical costs

If you do not get health coverage through your parents, some schools may require you to sign up for a health plan. For example, New York University automatically enrolls students in its school-sponsored health care plan, but students can waive the plan if they can provide evidence they maintain alternate health insurance coverage that meets the university’s minimum health insurance criteria.

The cost of a basic plan for the spring 2017 semester: $1,654. If you’re an out-of-state student and don’t find alternative insurance coverage in time for classes, you could be stuck paying the bill as “NYU requires that all students registered in degree-granting programs maintain health insurance.”

Shop around to be sure you’re getting the best coverage at the best price possible. That may mean going outside of your school’s designated plan. You might want to consider signing up for coverage in the federal government’s Health Insurance Marketplace or your state’s equivalent insurance marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Featured, Life Events, News

MagnifyMoney 2017 Survey of Recent College Graduates

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

An estimated 1.8 million college students will make up the U.S. class of 2017. The first few years — even the first few months — after college can feel like a financial land mine as graduates figure out how to manage their finances independently.

To give this graduating class a leg up, MagnifyMoney asked 1,000 recent college graduates to tell us what they wish they had done differently in those crucial years after graduation.

Among the most popular regrets were not being careful about debt/missing debt payments (48%) and not building their credit score up sooner (40%). One in five graduates also said they wished they had been better about saving money.

Missing a credit card or student loan payment even once can result in lasting credit score damage, and a lower credit score can make it difficult to get approved for new credit down the road.

Looking closely at the results of our survey, we can understand why so many college graduates may be struggling to stay on top of their bills — especially those who graduated with student loan debt.

Student Debt: A gateway to credit card debt

The vast majority of our survey respondents (61%) said they left school with student loan debt. On average, graduates with student loan debt said they carried $35,073.

We found some troubling trends among those with student loan debt. Not only are they more likely to say that they did not feel like they were better off their parents at their age, but they are also more likely to carry large loads of credit card debt.

More than half (58%) of graduates without student loan debt say they believe they are better off now than their parents were at their age. Graduates with student loans were less likely to agree with that statement. Half (52%) of college graduates with student loans say they are better off than their parents were at their age.

According to our survey, college graduates who left school with student loan debt were more likely to wind up in credit card debt down the road, as well.

  • 59% of all college graduates reported having credit card debt.
  • But 67% of recent grads with student loan debt report having credit card debt, versus 44% of those without student loans.
  • 20% of recent grads with student loans report credit card debt of $10,000 or more, almost twice the rate of those without student loans (11%).
  • And 24% of recent grads with $50,000 or more in student loans report having $10,000 or more of credit card debt.

2 in 5 will need longer than 10 years to pay off their student loans

A significant percentage of student loan borrowers expect to take longer than the standard 10 year repayment timeframe to pay off their loans.

  • 40% of recent grads with student loans anticipate that they’ll need more than 10 years to repay their student loans. For context, the standard repayment period for federal student loans is 10 years, however, we did not ask survey respondents what type of loans they carried (federal or private).
  • Among the grads who report more than $50,000 in debt, just 26% say they will pay off loans within 10 years. And 41% believe they will take more than 20 years, or never pay off their student loan debt.
  • Among all student loan borrowers, 7% said they will “never” be able to pay off all the debt.

Optimism for the future

One thing graduates seem to have in common — whether they carry student debt or not — is a shared sense of optimism for their futures.

  • 65% of grads without student loans feel they will be better off than their parents in the future.
  • 64% of those with student loan debt also feel they will be better off than their parents.

Even among recent graduates with the burden of $50,000 or more in debt, 60% believe they will be better off financially than their parents in the future.

Those with Master’s degrees are most confident, with 68% saying they will be better off than their parents, versus 64% of Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree recipients.

Top 3 tips to manage debt after college

Know your options. If you are struggling to pay down your student loan debt, find out if you qualify for flexible repayment options like income-driven repayment plans. Students with high-interest student loan debt can consider refinancing to lock in a lower interest rate.  Here are the top 19 places to refinance student debt in 2017.

Stay on top of your payments. Student loans will be reported on your credit report after you graduate. By making on-time student loan payments, you are already taking one of the most powerful steps toward building a solid credit score. If you fear you will miss a payment, contact your loan servicer right away. Even one missed payment can derail your credit score.

Build your credit score strategically. A 2014 study by MagnifyMoney found that the average college student will face credit card APRs of 21.4%. Carrying a balance with an APR that high can quickly lead down a long road of unmanageable credit debt. A simple way to build credit is to take out a credit card, charge small amounts each month and pay it off in full. To avoid relying on credit card debt, set money aside from your paycheck for emergencies.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney conducted a national online survey of 1,000 U.S. residents with college degrees who reported completing their most recent degree within the last five years via Pollfish from April 26 to 30, 2017.

MagnifyMoney
MagnifyMoney |

MagnifyMoney is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email MagnifyMoney at info@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads, Featured

The Pros and Cons of Subsidized Student Loans

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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After you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply to colleges, you’ll start getting financial aid award letters from each school that explain the types of aid you’re eligible to receive.

One of the offers you may get is the opportunity to take out subsidized student loans. These loans can be incredibly helpful in the right circumstances, but before making any decision it’s important to understand what they are, how they work, and how they compare to your other options.

What Are Subsidized Student Loans?

Subsidized student loans are federal loans offered to undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need, meaning that the cost of the school they are applying to exceeds their expected family contribution.

The big benefit of subsidized student loans is that the government pays the interest on the loan while you are in school, for the first six months after you graduate, and during any periods of deferment.

With other student loans, including unsubsidized federal student loans, the interest accumulates while you are in school (assuming you aren’t making payments), which increases the loan balance that you eventually have to pay back.

All of which simply means that subsidized student loans are less expensive and easier to pay back than most other types of student loans.

Who Is Eligible for Subsidized Student Loans?

One of the downsides of subsidized student loans is that not everyone will qualify for them. Generally, you have to meet the following criteria in order to be eligible:

  • You must be enrolled at least half-time in an undergraduate program participating in the Direct Loan Program that leads to a degree or certificate. Graduate students are not eligible for subsidized student loans.
  • You must demonstrate the need for financial help in paying for school. This is done by completing the FAFSA and comparing your expected family contribution to the cost of attending school. You might qualify for subsidized student loans at one school and not at another if the cost of attendance is different.

If you are eligible, the school will determine the amount that you qualify for and will let you know how much you’re eligible to borrow as part of your financial aid package.

The Benefits of Subsidized Student Loans

If you’re going to borrow money for school, it generally makes sense to take advantage of any subsidized student loans you’re offered before borrowing elsewhere.

The biggest reason is that you’ll save money by not having interest accrue while you’re in school and for the first six months after you graduate. Depending on interest rates and the amount you borrow, you could save anywhere from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars over other types of loans.

Subsidized student loans also offer protection in case you run into financial trouble. They are eligible for income-driven repayment plans where your monthly payment is limited based on your income, and you may even be eligible for forgiveness. Also, the interest is subsidized during periods of deferment, meaning that you won’t be penalized for periods of financial hardship.

Finally, interest rates on subsidized federal loans are currently low and are fixed for the life of the loan, making them a relatively cheap borrowing option.

The Drawbacks of Subsidized Student Loans

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and subsidized student loans come with some drawbacks as well.

The biggest is simply that no matter how many attractive features they offer, you’re still taking on debt. And while it’s certainly possible that the benefits of the education you receive will outweigh the costs, taking on debt is always a decision that should be made carefully.

The second is that you’re limited in the amount that you can borrow. Currently, most students are limited to taking out $3,500 in subsidized student loans in their first year of school, $4,500 in their second year, and $5,500 in their third and fourth years. This isn’t a reason to avoid subsidized student loans, but it does limit their usefulness.

Finally, only students who demonstrate financial need will qualify for subsidized student loans. Depending on the results of your FAFSA and the cost of the school you’re applying to, you may not be eligible.

Should You Take Out Subsidized Student Loans?

The decision to take on debt is a big one, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The right move for you will depend on the specifics of your situation, your goals, and the options available to you.

With that said, here’s how you should think about it:

  1. Do your best to pay for school without debt. This could mean a combination of using savings, paying from cash flow, taking advantage of scholarships and grants, and attending a lower-cost college.
  2. Before taking on any debt, evaluate what the potential benefits of going to a higher-cost school might be. Will it lead to a more enjoyable career? Will it lead to increased income? If so, how much more can you expect to earn? Try to imagine a best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, and middle-of-the-road scenario to get a sense of all possible outcomes.
  3. Compare those potential benefits to the cost of taking on debt. How likely is it that the benefits will outweigh the costs?
  4. If you decide that student loans are the right choice, subsidized student loans are a good option. The cost savings and protections against future financial hardship are hard to beat.
Matt Becker
Matt Becker |

Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt at matt@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads, Featured

Where Students Can Cover College Tuition with a Part-Time Job: Study

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Students Studying Learning Education

Affordability was a major factor when 19-year-old Bintou Kabba was considering colleges to attend after high school.  She enrolled at CUNY Lehman, a four-year public university in her native Bronx, N.Y. The 10-minute commute from her home, where she lives with her parents and six siblings, was part of the allure. But the low cost of tuition was essential for Kabba, an ambitious student with dreams of becoming a neonatal gynecologist but without the financial means to afford a pricey university. Most CUNY Lehman students pay just $2,374 out of pocket for a year of schooling.

But before she began classes, Kabba needed a job. “I was broke and I needed money so badly,” she told MagnifyMoney. So, she joined the ranks of so-called “working learners” attempting to counter the costs of college with part-time jobs. About 40 percent of undergraduates and 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours a week throughout the school year, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

As college costs have skyrocketed in recent years, the old adage “Work your way through college” has become increasingly out of touch with reality. Students who work rarely earn enough to truly cover the costs of their education.

MagnifyMoney sought to find out which colleges are still affordable enough for working students to afford on part-time wages. In a new study released Nov. 9, we found a student earning the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hr) would have to work full-time — nearly 44 hours per week — to afford the average annual net tuition at a four-year public institution today.

We then wanted to see how far a student working 20 hours per week at their state’s minimum wage could get toward covering their net tuition. Their post-tax annual earnings were compared with the net tuition price at more than 2,500 public and private non-profit institutions.

Key findings:

  • We found it is impossible to cover the tuition gap at most four-year schools, both private and public.
  • Students can afford to cover their net tuition costs with a part-time job at only 50 out of 645 (7.75%) of four-year public institutions. Students can feasibly cover net tuition costs with a part-time job at just 24 out of 1,208 private nonprofit four-year institutions (2%).
  • Two-year public institutions were significantly more affordable — it was feasible for part-time working students to cover net tuition at 287 out of 656  two-year public schools (43.75%). On average, a student earning the federal minimum wage would only need to work roughly 25 hours per week to cover net tuition costs at a two-year public institution.
  • Less than 5% of private two-year and private four-year institutions are affordable enough for a part-time working student, MagnifyMoney found.

The cost of going to college has outpaced the rise in wages by a staggering amount over the last decade. When faced with a gap in college costs and earnings, families typically have just one place to turn – student loan debt.

Kabba wanted to avoid student debt at all costs. That drove her decision to enroll at CUNY Lehman. The school is the fourth most affordable four-year public college on our list. Earning the New York state minimum wage of $9/hour, a part-time working student could pocket more than enough to cover their expenses.

Still, working long hours to cover college expenses is far from the ideal college experience.

Research has shown demanding work schedules can all too easily conflict with student’s academic performance. Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce warns against any job that demands more than 30 hours per week from a full-time student.

On a tip from her high school counselor, Kabba landed a $10/hour gig soliciting telephone donations at a midtown-New York charity. During her freshman year, she worked 20 hours most weeks. With a full course load to juggle as well, it wasn’t long before Kabba started to feel the pressure of conflicting responsibilities.

“It was just too much,” she said. To get to work each day, she took a 45-minute train ride from the Bronx to midtown. Rather than working around her class schedule, she had to work her class schedule around her job, because the charity had strict guidelines on when workers could call donors. By the end of her freshman year, her grades started to reflect her strain.

“I decided I’d rather be unemployed and actually do well in school,” says Kabba. She quit before her sophomore year.

Not long after leaving her inflexible charity job, Kabba found another solution. Through a special program offered at CUNY Lehman, she landed a job on campus that paid $9/hour and only required 10 hours of work per week. Reducing her hours and pay meant smaller paychecks, but a better chance she’ll earn the grades she needs to achieve her goal of going to medical school. “It’s on campus and it’s convenient,” she said.

Behind the data

To make our findings more exact, we used the minimum wage of the state in which each school resides to determine the annual earnings of working students. Next, we analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics to determine the net tuition costs of each school. The net price is more accurate than a college’s sticker price because it factors in financial aid, scholarships and grants. The net price is what students and families actually pay out of pocket.

We stuck to a 20-hour part-time work schedule because we thought it was unrealistic to assume students could juggle a full-time course schedule and a full-time job. In fact, Georgetown recommends students work no more than 30 hours per week in order to maintain good grades in college.

public-nonprofit-4-year-finalpublic nonprofit 4 year final

public nonprofit 2 year final

 

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Tips for working college students

It is virtually impossible to “work your way through school” anymore. The old adage just doesn’t apply to today’s college students, who are paying more than ever for college tuition and can’t feasibly cover their expenses with part-time income alone.

However, there are still benefits to working while in college. Here are some tips on how to maximize savings as a working student.

How to save on college costs with a part-time job

  1. Start small. Try going to a lower cost community college and transferring your credits to a larger institution later. As our study shows, it’s possible for students working part-time to cover net tuition at the majority of two-year public institutions 43.75%). By covering tuition and fees with a part-time job at a two-year school, you can reduce your need for financial aid by half and still graduate from a four-year institution.
  2. Work part-time at a campus job or through a work-study program. Jobs tied to campus are more likely to work around your course schedule and be flexible during unusually demanding times of year, such as quarterly exams and finals.
  3. Stay close to home. Not only will you save on tuition by enrolling at an in-state school, but if you are close enough to continue to live with your family while you’re studying, you could save big on housing expenses. If living at home means commuting by car or public transit for classes, factor in those additional costs.
  4. Don’t rely on student loan debt for expenses you can cover with part-time work. Save the student debt for tuition and other fees that are usually required in one lump-sum payment at the beginning of the semester. When it comes to extra expenses, like your trip to Key West for spring break, or moving to an off-campus apartment, lean on income earned from a part-time job. If you move off campus, you might find it is possible to afford rent (with support from roommates) with income from a part-time job.
  5. Choose your job wisely. If possible, find work in your area of study, which can give you an early jump start in the job market before you even graduate. If you have several years of job experience under your belt at graduation, you’ll be light years ahead of your peers graduating with a comparatively thin resume. Another study by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce found college students who worked or took internships while in college were more upwardly mobile after graduation and more likely to move into managerial positions.
  6. Take advantage of in-state tuition rates even if you are not a permanent state resident. Each state has its own residency requirements for students looking to qualify for in-state tuition rates, which can be significantly lower than out-of-state rates. Some states will allow students to qualify for in-state tuition if at least one of their parents has been a resident for at least one full year before the student enrolls. If the student is independent — meaning they do not receive financial assistance from a parent to attend college — most states require at least one year of residency in the state. There are other documentation requirements, which can be found at FinAid.org.
  7. Don’t sacrifice your studies for a paycheck. At a certain point, the financial benefits of working part-time might not be worth the additional stress and attention a job might demand. The majority of working students ages 16-29 work 20 hours or less per week. However, research has shown both working and non-working college students graduate with similar levels of student loan debt — 34% of working college students graduate with $25,000 or more in student loan debt, compared to 37% college students who don’t work while in school.
  8. Graduate early (or on time). Dragging out your time in college is a quick way to add thousands of dollars to your student debt load. And it happens more often than you might think. Only 40% of students graduate within four years of enrollment across all types of institutions, according to the Department of Education. Less than one-third of college students graduate on time at public institutions. Save additional tuition expenses by completing your degree in four years or less.

 

Mandi Woodruff
Mandi Woodruff |

Mandi Woodruff is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Mandi at mandi@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads, Life Events

Will You Get Real Value from an Online Degree?

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Will You Get Real Value from an Online Degree?

In search of higher education, lucrative careers and better credentials, nearly 6 million Americans are enrolled in some kind of online course, according to data from the Online Learning Consortium. Distance learning programs tout online courses as an efficient and low-cost way to complete a degree. But are they worth the time and financial investment?

Here’s what to consider before you enroll in an online learning program:

What it really costs

For students looking to complete distance learning programs at in-state schools, the cost probably won’t vary much from traditional students attending classes in person. However if you’re comparing for-profit online schools to out of state public universities, for-profit schools tend to have lower tuition costs on average ($15,610 vs. $23,893 per year). Before you enroll in a for-profit university you should note that it is more difficult to obtain scholarships and grants when studying at a for-profit school.

Degree mills (for-profit schools that aren’t accredited such as American Central University or Golden State University) offer the lowest degree prices, but these institutions offer little in the way of education, and they drag down the appeal of all online degrees. Check to see if your school is accredited here.

A lower sticker price for an online degree might not translate to a lower out of pocket to you as a student. Before committing to an online institution, consider cost saving measures such as attending a Community College for two years and applying for scholarships at an in-state, public school. In many cases, this will end up being your lowest cost option.

However, if distance learning is right for you, you will qualify for subsidized loans if you attend any accredited school (this includes some for-profit online schools). If the school you plan to attend is accredited by one of the national or regional accrediting commissions (see this list to learn more), you will be eligible to receive the Pell Grant and Stafford or Perkins loans.

Online Degree Completion

Students in online only programs complete courses and degrees at a slightly lower rates than students in traditional programs. This may be due to a lower level of student support for online students, or the fact that more distance learners have both career and family demands in addition to their education.

Because online degrees have lower completion rates, you should ask yourself whether you have the time and resources that you need to complete your degree; if you don’t, it’s not worth the money. If your primary goal is to learn and continue your education, you may that Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) through Khan Academy or Coursera fit your needs with negligible out of pocket costs.

What you won’t get from an online program

If you earn an online degree through a traditional university, employers will perceive your degree as on par with traditional degrees from that school. For example, a Master’s Degree in Statistics from Texas A&M is equally valuable if you earned the degree through their distance education program or while attending class on campus. However, not every employer views online for-profit universities favorably. Top tier online schools are working to change sentiments, but you should research the acceptance in your field before pursuing a degree from a for-profit institution.

Distance education programs offer fewer networking opportunities compared to traditional schools. Online students do not have as much access to professors or peers as traditional students which is a drawback during the learning process and the job search process, but recently, high quality online schools offer new technology to help their students network and job search.

You also shouldn’t expect as much hands-on help in your coursework as an online student. Distance learners need to be self-directed, and able to pick up complex concepts on their own. Students may need to teach themselves computer programs, and they will be expected to do labs or other physical projects on their own.

Advantages of online degrees

Online programs from top-tier online universities and not-for-profit universities offer high quality education that may increase your marketability. You can earn your degree with greater flexibility than in a traditional education model, and you may be able to earn your bachelor’s degree even while you hold down a full-time job and raise your family.

Depending on the school you choose and your financial aid package, an online degree may have a lower out of pocket cost compared to a traditional classroom setting. Online universities accept more transfer credits than traditional universities which can help you complete your degree faster and reduce your costs.

Especially for adults hoping to complete a degree, distance learning and online universities offer advantages that traditional schools cannot.

Is an online program for you?

The value of an online degree depends upon how you want to use it. If a degree will allow you to advance in your company or your industry, and you want to earn your degree while working then an online degree offers value above what a similarly priced brick-and-mortar school offers. Distance learners have increasing opportunities to study in a field that aligns with their personal and career goals.  Popular degrees for distance learners include healthcare administration, business administration, information systems and psychology, but hands on fields like nursing and elementary education continue to make inroads for students pursuing their degree online.

On the other hand, if you’re not a self-directed learner, or your industry frowns on online education then the money will be wasted. Degrees from non-accredited universities aren’t going to be worth the money for most people.

If you choose to pursue an online degree, be sure to compare the out of pocket cost to you (including fees), consider whether you have the time and resources to complete the degree, and line up your funding ahead of time. It’s also important to weigh your expected increase in income against the cost of the degree. Online degrees aren’t a slam dunk in value, but you may find that it’s the right choice for you.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads, Featured

With $655 Malaysia Trip, This Student Proves Gap Years Don’t Have to Cost a Fortune

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With $655 Malaysia Trip, This Student Proves Gap Years Don’t Have to Cost a Fortune

Brandon Stubbs isn’t your typical 18-year-old high school graduate. In addition to graduating valedictorian from his Grass Valley, Calif. high school, he’s joined the ranks of a growing number of students embracing the concept of taking a gap year before starting college.

While other college freshmen began their first classes this Fall, Stubbs, who plans on attending Brown University, kicked off his gap year with a trip to Malaysia.

A gap year is usually more than just a nice break from calculus exams and book reports. Many students choose to focus on personal growth and incorporate travel abroad or participation in volunteer projects. That growth can come at a high cost. Some programs, like the $35,000 Global Gap Year offered by Thinking Beyond Borders, can cost more than what some students pay for a four-year college degree.

But, there are plenty of ways to trim costs and still have a great gap year. We reported on some here, which is how we met Stubbs.

We asked Stubbs to share his budget so far. Take a look at how he’s financing the first leg of his gap year in Malaysia:

Brandon's Malaysia Budget

We caught up with Stubbs to see how his budget is holding up in Malaysia and how he intends to spend the rest of his gap year. Here’s what he said.

MagnifyMoney: Where are you now?

Brandon Stubbs: I’m taking two months of my gap year in Malaysia, one of the most diverse countries in the world. Right now I’m in Johor Bahru, the southernmost city of Malaysia, just across the bridge from Singapore.

MM: What drove your decision to take a gap year?

BS: After my high school graduation, I was definitely, to an extent, burnt out and, while I was excited to attend Brown University, I wasn’t as ready or enthusiastic to start college this fall as I will be next fall.  This gap year has provided me the opportunity to gain experience in the real world while simultaneously recharging my mental battery.  I’m learning a lot in an entirely different way than in the classroom.  And my enthusiasm and excitement for next fall has only increased as I’ve grown as an individual throughout this gap year.

MM: Why Malaysia?

BS: As a student going into archaeology, it’s really important for me to be getting this exposure to this blend of Eastern cultures as well as to the geography and climate. Tropical rainforests thrive here, so I’ve been able to go on some real Indiana Jones-esque expeditions into the jungle. I’ve also visited some incredible Buddhist and Hindu temples throughout the country that have proven to be very enlightening experiences.

MM: How did you you save up for this trip?

BS: I had $2800 saved up for this trip, which I earned working as a tutor throughout high school and as a music camp counselor during the summer. I paid for my flight through StudentUniverse [ a site that offers affordable fares to students ]. I booked a flight on AirChina for $535.

MM: How do you stay on budget?

BS: My room and board is covered in exchange for my volunteer service [at the hostel where I am staying] so I only have to spend money on food and transportation.  Often, I’ll only spend money on brunch and dinner during a day, but I’ll spend a little more for excursions into Malaysia or Singapore.

MM: What are you doing for money out there?

BS: I’ve done some street performing in the past on my trumpet at the local “Cornish Christmas” celebrations and other outdoor festivities. On top of that, I am focusing on the style of New Orleans Dixieland jazz, which lends itself quite well to solo street performance. I intended to bring my trumpet, anyway, if just to practice, so the idea of playing it in public was natural.  So far I’m earning about 160 [Malaysian Ringgit] a week, which translates to $40 USD, for playing five nights a week. But the money is enough to cover most of my daily expenses in Malaysia.

MM: What’s your typical day like?

BS: I have two days a week off from my work at the hostel.  On those days, I’ll either go into Singapore and visit some of the attractions and districts of that amazing city or explore the nature and culture of Malaysia, hiking or visiting new towns.  On my work days, I’ll spend a few hours cleaning and checking guests in and out and on my downtime work on my second book or street perform on my trumpet.

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MM: Did your parents help you with any expenses?

BS: My parents did help pay for some of the preparatory expenses, like my typhoid shot or general supplies – flashlight, mosquito repellent, etc.  Aside from that, I am covering all of my own expenses.

MM: When do you get back?

BS: I’ll return to the States toward the end of November.

MM: Will you have any funds left when you return?

BS: I expect to return with $1800 or $1900 remaining. I shouldn’t spend more than $1000 on the entire two-month trip, all expenses included.

MM: What will you do for the remainder of the gap year?

BS: Once I return to the U.S. I intend to spend several months publishing and advertising my first book, The King of Kamaahr.  My plans for the spring are still not set in stone, but right now I think I’ll go to Sydney, where I have some family and Australian citizenship, and spend a few months living there.  I’ll try to find work there as a musician and/or an actor as well as advertise my book outside the U.S.

Do you want to share your gap year story? E-mail us at info@magnifymoney.com. 

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Featured

TRUMP VS. CLINTON: Where the Candidates Stand on College Costs, Child Care, Family Leave, and Health Care

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TRUMP VS. CLINTON: Where the Candidates Stand on College Costs, Child Care, Family Leave, and Health Care

With the election a month away, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have just a few weeks left to woo voters across the U.S.

If you’re still on the fence about which candidate to vote for, your final decision may hinge on how their policy ideas could potentially impact your wallet.

We have simplified and broken down each candidate’s stance on three key issues — college costs, child care and family leave, and health care — to help you understand exactly how each candidate’s proposals could affect your wallet.

Read more about their stances on job growth, taxes and housing here > 

College Costs

Hillary Clinton

 

Hillary Clinton’s college debt plan promises a “debt-free future” for college graduates. Clinton intends to use her New College Compact to erase college tuition at in-state colleges and universities for families earning up to $125,000 annually. The plan caps income at $80,000 to start off, then will rise by $10,000 for the next four years to hit $125,000 in 2021.

The New College Compact also promises to help students pay for the cost of college by protecting the Pell Grant’s funding and restoring year-round Pell funding so that students can receive the grant over the summer in addition to fall and spring. In addition, the plan will invest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions and grant a 15-fold increase in federal funding for on-campus child care among other factors. The Compact requires colleges to be accountable and pursue cost-reduction efforts, requires students to work at least 10 hours a week, and will reward those who create programs that provide credible education at a low cost.

Clinton has also pledged to provide debt-relief help to struggling graduates. Her plan outlines efforts to make sure all graduates can refinance loans, enroll in income-based repayment (no more than 10% of monthly income), get help from employers, defer repayment from debt incurred from starting a business for up to three years, and be rewarded for public service. Finally, she proposes a three-month moratorium on student debt collection to give debtors the chance to get on board with the resources she plans to provide.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s plan to address college costs begins with a proposal to get rid of student loans issued directly by the U.S. government, a system that has been in place since 2010. Trump would take the U.S. government out of the student loan business, leaving student lending up to private lenders.

He says he will work with Congress to enact reforms that will give tax breaks to colleges and universities that make a “good faith effort” to cut back costs and student debt. By doing this, Trump says he will make attending, paying for, and completing one’s education at a two- or four-year college or vocational or technical school more accessible.

Child Care and Family Leave

Hillary Clinton

 

Child care costs rose more than 122% over the past 10 years for American families.

Hillary Clinton’s plan to address the rising costs includes giving a raise to child care providers to incentivize high-quality and effective child care. She plans on using the Respect and Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators (RAISE) initiative with state and local governments to fund the salary increases. Clinton also plans to double federal funding for the Early Head Start and the Early Head Start–Child Care Partnership program to allow room for twice as many children in the program.

When it comes to family leave, Clinton says she will guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to workers who need to care for a new child or sick family member. Individuals who fall seriously ill or are injured will also get up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave. The pay will be at least two-thirds of an individual’s current wages, but it won’t cost businesses anything extra. It will be funded by money generated through tax increases on the wealthy and tax reform.

Clinton also proposes capping families’ child care expenses at 10% of household income.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump would change the tax code to allow working parents to deduct child care expenses for up to four children and elderly dependents from their income taxes. The deduction would be capped at “average cost of care for the state of residence,” according to his plan. According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, higher-earning families would have the most to gain from Trump’s child care plan, as the poorest households rarely pay federal income taxes.

Trump also proposes creating special child care savings accounts where families can make tax-free contributions toward child care. Currently, families may contribute to similar accounts but only if those accounts are offered by an employer. His proposal calls for a federal match of up to $500 to families who use the special accounts.

On the issue of family leave, Trump proposes six weeks of paid maternity leave.
He hasn’t specifically said how his plan would be paid for, but in a campaign fact sheet he says most of his tax reforms would be paid for by “increases in economic activity that accompany pro-growth tax reform, better trade deals, regulatory and immigration reform, and unleashing American energy.”

Health Care

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton largely plans to focus on continuing and expanding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). She says that she will work with state governors to expand Medicaid to the 3 million people who are uninsured because states chose not to expand the program. Clinton says she will allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to block or adjust health insurance premium rate increases to make coverage more affordable. She also says she will cap prescription drug costs and limit out-of-pocket expenses for families.

Clinton says she will also make efforts to give Americans the choice of a public-option insurance plan, or a government-run health plan, in each state and to allow those 55 years or older to opt into Medicare. The qualifying age is currently 65.

Donald Trump

The first part of Donald Trump’s health care plan is to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to help cover out-of-pocket expenses. HSAs are usually coupled with high-deductible health plans to allow workers to set aside pre-tax dollars for medical expenses. Unlike many existing HSA accounts, the ones that Trump is proposing will have no limit and will become part of an individual’s estate and will enable people to pass the sum onto an heir after death, tax-free.

Trump says he will also allow individuals to deduct their health insurance premium payment from their tax returns. Finally, his plan outlines an effort to work with states to identify individuals who have not had continuous health coverage and create high-risk pools to give them access to health care coverage.

Make sure to register to vote by Oct. 14.

Illustrations by Kelsey Wroten.

Click here to find out more about Trump and Clinton’s platforms on job growth, college costs, taxes and housing > 

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads

Does a Tuition Installment Plan Make Sense for You?

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college students Teenagers Young Team Together Cheerful Concept

If you’re a student who is short on cash, but you want to avoid student loans, you might be considering a tuition installment plan, but before you enroll, read the plan agreement and do a bit of math. In most cases, the tuition installment plan is a bad deal for you.

What is a tuition installment plan?

A tuition installment plan allows you to pay your tuition in monthly payments that last twelve months or less (sometimes as few as three installments). You can expect to pay an enrollment fee, but you won’t pay interest. Universities limit the amount of money you can pay through tuition installment plans, so the remainder of your tuition bill needs to be covered in cash or by student loans.

What are the installment plan fees?

Enrollment fees vary by university, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $25-$100 to enroll in a tuition payment plan. For example, Virginia Commonwealth University charges a nonrefundable $25 application fee to enroll in the tuition installment plan, while Howard University charges a $45 fee, and Rutgers charges a $60 fee for an annual plan or $50 per semester. If you pay your installment late or incompletely, you can expect to pay a late fee of $10-$35 per installment.

What happens if I don’t pay?

If you don’t pay your installment payments, the university will roll your payments into an “emergency” loan where interest begins accruing immediately, and payments are immediately due. You may be able to take out student loans to pay off the emergency loan, but you may be stuck with the loan going forward.

Once your tuition installment plan converts to a loan, creditors view it like any other loan. This means that failing to pay it will lead to credit problems. Additionally, your school may put a hold on your credentials or not allow you to enroll in classes until the loan is current.

Information about what happens if you don’t pay will be available in an agreement that you need to sign prior to enrollment. Read the agreement prior to enrolling in a tuition installment plan.

Will Tuition Installment Plans save you money?

You won’t save much money paying through a tuition installment plan compared with subsidized student loans. Sallie Mae offers a calculator that calculates the amount of interest you will accrue on a student loan if the loan goes completely unpaid. Compare the accrued interest to the the tuition installment plan enrollment fee to see if you have the potential to save money.

Tuition installment plans sound like interest free loans, but they tend to be a bad deal for students. You’re locked into payments during school, and you save little (or nothing) compared to subsidized student loans. Since enrolling in tuition installment plans requires filling out a FAFSA, you won’t save time enrolling in TIP(s) vs taking out loans.

When should I consider Tuition Installment Plans?

Tuition installment plans have a useful psychological value. If a required payment keeps you from wasting money or from taking on debt for lifestyle purchases, then you should consider it whether or not you save money compared to student loans. If you have a moral or religious objection to debt, installment plans allow you to cover a small gap without interest bearing debt (but be aware that if you fail to pay, you’re taking on a loan).

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Featured

How 4 Students Took a Gap Year Without Breaking the Bank

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Planning the Perfect Gap Year Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

The gap year — taking a year off from formal education to travel, participate in social projects, or gain work experience — is growing in popularity among American students. Just ask Malia Obama. The first daughter announced back in May that she would be taking a gap year before attending Harvard University.

She’s among those contributing to a 22% increase in American students taking part in the practice already common among students in Europe and Australia, according to the American Gap Association. Some families spend hundreds of dollars on gap-year consultants.

Like Harvard, many higher education institutions encourage students to take gap years. The reason: a push toward experiential learning. Schools increasingly see value in the life experience, maturity, and other skills that gappers return with.

“We have more information in the palm of our hands than ever. So why are we teaching [students] information? They don’t need information,” said American Gap Association Executive Director Ethan Knight. “They need experience to know what to do with that information.”

Jamie Hand, 23, a senior at Middlebury College in Vermont, echoes the sentiment. She said her gap-year trip to São Luís, Brazil with Rotary Youth Exchange allowed her to “take a break from this rat race that I felt like I was in.” At the time, she was 18 years old and wanted to take time off before beginning her freshman year. Though she already had a high school diploma under her belt, the program involved taking classes at a local high school in São Luís.

“It felt like I was taking this big breath and I was free to excel but I didn’t have to excel,” said Hand. “It was one of the times when I learned the most in my life [because] I didn’t have to.”

bike_ride_in_brasilia

The Cost of a Gap Year

Gap years may seem like a privilege only available to families wealthy enough to finance them. It’s true that some gap-year programs can easily cost more than a year’s worth of college tuition. Families pay over $35,000 — close to the average cost of a four-year degree these days — to participate in the “Global Gap Year,” a program offered by Thinking Beyond Borders, which offers gap-year and study-abroad programs. During their global year abroad, students split their time between homestays on three different continents. But the gap-year experience isn’t just for the super-rich. MagnifyMoney caught up with some current and previous gappers to find out how they made it work.

Go the DIY Route

Brandon Stubbs, 18, motivated by his interest in Southeast Asian archaeology, decided to defer his acceptance to Brown University for a year to travel to Malaysia for two months this fall.

Rather than paying for a trip through a travel agency, which could easily have cost several thousand dollars, he did some research on his own. Stubbs found a hostel in Johor Bahru, where he will be able to work in exchange for room and board.

To save on airfare, he booked a round-trip ticket to Malaysia for just $500 with StudentUniverse, a site that offers cheaper fares to students. When he’s not working, Stubbs plans to spend his free time sightseeing and exploring the city.

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“I’m most excited to explore an entire different area of the world,” said Stubbs, who said he grew up enthralled by the exotic locales in movies like Indiana Jones.

When he returns to the U.S. from Malaysia in November, Stubbs’ gap year will continue with a stop in New Orleans. He plans to take time off for the holidays and then move to the Big Easy, where he’ll work at a hostel in exchange for room and board.

“I feel like taking a gap year will sort of increase my momentum. High school wasn’t an easy experience mentally,” said Stubbs. “I feel like in a year I’ll be rejuvenated and ready to jump back into my studies.”

Get College Credit for the Program

A great way to save money and kill two birds with one stone during a gap year is to earn college course credits along the way. Some schools offer course credit to students who take gap years. Students may even be able to use financial aid dollars toward their gap-year experience.

Some schools have specialized programs or fellowships for gappers like UNC Chapel Hill’s fellowship, or Princeton University with its Bridge Year. Others, like Elon University, offer their own version of an experiential learning program for first-year students.

There are even some gap-year programs that will not only give you a stipend, but contribute to the cost of your college education like those offered through AmeriCorps or City Year.

Work Now, Play Later

Breaking up a gap year into smaller trips or working for part of the year can help to reduce overall costs. If you budget well, the money you earn could fund your travels.

Jericho, Vt., student Asher Small, 19, who will begin his first semester at Brown University this fall, also worked at a ski resort in Utah for part of his gap year.

“It was kind of like a dream job because I love to ski,” said Small. In addition to his $8/hour wages, the resort subsidized his room and board, leaving him with just $300 to cover each month.

Small worked at the ski resort for four months. Before making his way back home, he took a road trip through Southern Utah and California and participated in a 10-day meditation course retreat. To save on lodging, he used couchsurfing.com, a service that connects benevolent hosts with houseguests. He estimates he ended up saving about $2,000 from his work at the resort after the trip.

Working or interning during a gap year can also be a great way to build skills or experience for the subject you’re interested in majoring in once you get to school. Some programs will pay you for work abroad or offer perks like free room and board as an incentive. For example, if you have a green thumb, you could volunteer to work at an organic farm or winery through a program like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms during your gap year in exchange for food and accommodation.

Before he went to Utah, Small spent the first half of his gap year in Desab, Haiti, with Volunteers For Peace, a nonprofit volunteer organization. There, Small taught an English class to local residents. The trip cost him about $1,500 in total, which he paid with funds he saved from past summer jobs.

Work Now, Play Later

Stay Close to Home

Keeping your gap-year experience stateside can be an easy way to minimize travel expenses, reducing the overall costs of a gap year. Staying in the U.S. doesn’t mean you’ll have any less of a cross-cultural experience.

Start Saving Early

Knight recommends planning your gap year at least six months from the date you want to travel, so you’ll have ample time to save up.

Stubbs worked all four years of high school as a junior college tutor and as a camp counselor at a music camp. Doing so helped him to save about $3,000 to spend on his trip to Malaysia and Louisiana.

Small worked over the summers prior to his gap year as well. Those funds helped him with his trip to Haiti.

Tap into Your Savings

If your parents have been saving up for college, you may be able to use some of that money to finance a gap-year program, although it may mean sacrificing going to a more expensive college.

Gabe Katzman, 24, was considering the University of Maryland, where he would pay in-state tuition, and other, more expensive out-of-state institutions at the time he was planning his gap year in Israel.

His parents presented him with the option to use some of his college savings to fund the trip, which cost about $16,000 to $17,000. Because the cost was close to a year’s worth of tuition at the pricey out-of-state school, his parents told him they could only help him finance his gap year if he decided to stay in state.

Ask for Free Money: Grants, Scholarships, Trusts, and Charities

Find an organization, trust, or charity that’s aligned with the focus of your trip and ask if they have any grants or scholarships that you can apply for and that would be applicable toward your gap year.

Local associations, businesses, schools, and charities such as the Rotary Club or Lions Clubs International award grants, or scholarships may even be able to sponsor students who meet certain criteria and goals.

When Katzman decided he wanted to spend 9 months in Israel with Habonim Dror’s Workshop, a gap-year program run through his childhood camp, Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, the first thing he did was look for scholarships and grants to help him cover the $16,000 the trip would cost.

Ask for Free Money: Grants, Scholarships, Trusts, and Charities

“I talked to my synagogue,” said Katzman. “I knew that if I connected with the synagogue they [would support me].” In the end, they gave him about $3,000.

Katzman then asked other organizations including one called Masa, an Israeli organization that advocates interning and volunteering in Israel, adding another $1,000 to his fundraising goal. Next, he went to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.

After he got some funding through community organizations, Katzman turned to his family and friends to help out.

“I talked to all of my family. Instead of a Hanukkah or birthday present, I asked them to give me money for the trip,” said Katzman.

The rest of the funds came from his own savings from working as a lifeguard and camp counselor while in high school.

Get Creative

Katzman and the group he went to Israel with saved money by pooling their resources.

“We were living a socialist lifestyle with a group of 23. We had a shared bank account that we all put money into. Some of us put $2,000 and some put just what they could,” said Katzman.

The shared account allowed them to prioritize the group’s experience as opposed to the individual and kept them out of “a situation where someone felt excluded because they couldn’t afford it,” said Katzman.

Two of the members in Katzman’s group were co-treasurers of the shared account and managed the group’s budget. If some or all of the group’s members went out to eat or someone in the group needed to replace a pair of shoes, the money to pay for it came from the shared account. At the end of the trip, they had a little left over to donate back to the camp.

Stubbs, who already has his room and board covered with the hostel, also plays the trumpet. He plans to finance some of his living expenses while in Malaysia this fall and New Orleans in the spring with money earned from street performing or “busking.”

Some Final Advice: You have to want it.

“Sometimes coming up with the money for something like this can be really discouraging because it’s really expensive,” said Katzman.

But setting aside time for a gap year was well worth the added cost and effort. After he graduated from college, Katzman decided to move to Haifa, Israel, full-time, where he is working part-time to lead this year’s Habonim Dror gappers and taking Hebrew classes.

“I grew more in one year than I think the average college student would have grown,” he added. “It affected what I did in college, it affected my choices during college and afterward [when I decided to] live here.”

Katzman

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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