Paying for College: Who’s Responsible Anyway?

Letters from Financial Aid

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Who is responsible for paying for college? Your parents, the school, the Federal Department of Education? The “free-ride” stories that you hear may create the impression that someone other than yourself is responsible. And although your parents, your school and the government are all willing to help, ultimately you’re the one responsible.

This hardly seems fair considering that for your entire life your parents or some other responsible adult has provided for all your needs. Those same adults are probably the ones who are insisting that you go to college to get a good education so you can get a good job. However, although those adults may be your biggest cheerleaders for success, they are usually not able to pay for your entire education.

The best option, which you should consider before resorting to student loans, is working—working before you start college, working while you’re in college, and working every summer in between. Working takes time, but the benefit to you is often more than merely money.

Working Before College

Working during high school isn’t an option for some students. But if at all possible, this is the best way to start saving for college. If your high school schedule includes lots of extracurricular activities, you may not be able to work during the school year. But finding a summer job as early as you can is a good idea.

A summer job doesn’t have to be flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant. A summer job can be a job you enjoy and a job with flexible hours. Starting your own mini-business will take some work, but lining up customers for yard work, babysitting, cleaning or dog walking can allow you to set your own hours and still plan for a family vacation. If you build up a great customer base, these jobs can be your summer work even while you’re in college.

If you’re saving for college, remember to be sure to decide before you get paid what percentage of your paycheck you will put in your college savings account. It’s much harder to decide once you’ve seen the numbers.

Working During College

During the academic year, students can find jobs on campus and off campus. On-campus jobs are easily accessible. There is no drive time if you’re living in the residence hall, and the hours are often more flexible to accommodate required campus events. Wages usually start at minimum wage with higher pay for student manager positions.

Many schools also participate in the Federal Work Study program. The wages for these jobs are supplemented by federal funds. To be employed in a federal work study job, you must complete a FAFSA and indicate that you are interested in Federal Work Study. You must then apply and be hired for a position that qualifies.

Off-campus jobs may pay more per hour, but it is important to consider the cost of transportation to and from work as well as the flexibility of your schedule. Weekend off-campus jobs can supplement a minimum wage on campus job. Your summer experience in landscaping, child care or cleaning may allow you to work for people in the community near your college campus.

Again, it is very important to decide how much of your paycheck will be applied to your student account. If your paycheck is deposited into your personal bank account, it is important to make a payment from your account as soon as possible after you’re paid. If you wait too long, other expenses can arise and consume the funds you meant to cover your school costs. Some schools offer the option of applying your campus job wages directly to your school account. This is very helpful if your sole purpose in working is to pay your school bill.

Working In Between College Semesters

Deciding what to do during your summers during college can be challenging. The rigors of college semesters may tempt you to take the summer off to rest your weary brain and body. However, earning money toward your next year’s school bill may give you more rest and peace of mind than a trip to Disney World.

Depending on where you live and when your spring academic semester ends, summer jobs may be hard to find. Starting to work for a local business during high school can help guarantee a summer job during college. And maintaining a relationship with your customer base for yard work or similar jobs may also give you guaranteed summer work. Some large businesses may wait to hire college students until they have completed at least one year, but even then these businesses often rehire dependable student workers each summer.

Deciding between serving in a summer ministry or working to save for the next year is often a difficult decision. Serving as a camp counselor or going on a short-term mission trip are excellent summer choices. However, with a looming college bill and limited funds with which to pay it, those choices may affect your upcoming school year.

When deciding, it is important to remember that service for the Lord never erases responsibility. If finances are tight and funds are limited, working to pay for school may be the better option. God gives opportunity for service and ministry in the midst of fulfilling our responsibilities. He has promised to provide our needs, but He doesn’t promise that those needs will be provided by supernatural means. An additional scholarship may not be His way of providing. His provision may come in the form of time and strength to take on a second job during the next semester.

Working and Financial Aid

Student wages must be reported on the FAFSA each year and are part of the calculation for the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number. Depending on the amount you earn, the amount of wages or savings could reduce your Federal Pell Grant Amount.

However, deciding not to work in order to receive the maximum amount of Pell grant should not be an option. In most cases, you can earn more than the amount your federal aid would be reduced. If you have saved a considerable amount for college and some of it is intended to purchase clothing, a laptop or other out of pocket expenses, make those purchases before completing the FAFSA since the amount entered for savings is the amount at the time you complete the FAFSA.

Investing in your own education by working is a great way to help pay your own way. Learning to budget your earnings between savings and expenses is a great life lesson, too. Once you’ve graduated from college, the expenses don’t stop. They just take another form such as rent or a car payment. Learning to manage your money is a part of your college education. Use the opportunity to learn well now.