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By Andrea Papagianis-Camacho

This is a cautionary tale. Not one meant to scare, but one aimed to prompt action—careful planning coupled with dedicated execution. Stay your course, stay engaged and you can get through this. College that is. Hopefully without a heap of debt under your feet as you start into the world.

Let’s start off with a couple facts: (these are all about undergraduate education)

  • Community colleges across California have the same state-mandated enrollment fee: $46. That’s $46 per unit. So if you take a full course load—or 12 units—that comes to $552 in course fees.
  • Students enrolled in the California State University system pay the same base tuition fee: $5,742. This figure is for in-state students attending school full time (six or more units a semester).
  • California residents attending a University of California campus full time pay the same in system-wide tuition and fees: $12,630. You can add about $1,000 in campus-specific fees to this number.

This is just tuition costs. And these, as you may soon learn, are subject to increasing without much notice. There are other things that come along too. You’ve also got to take into account housing, books, supplies, transportation and the ever important necessity, food—coffees, snacks and late-night cravings included.

It’s overwhelming. But you aren’t alone.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, some 20.4 million students are attending American colleges and universities this fall—that’s about 5.1 million more college students than in 2000. It’s safe to say there are a few people in the same boat, navigating the college-funding waters.

One more fact before we get to the goods. The nation’s outstanding student-debt is on the rise. As of Dec. 31, 2016, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that American students carry a massive $1.31 trillion in outstanding student loan balances. Upon graduation, nearly half of student loan borrowers owe at least $20,000. That’s double the share from a decade ago, according to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

While loans may be inevitable, you can try to keep the amount you borrow on the low end.

Because here’s the thing: Everyone should be able to affordably access a quality education.

Here are a couple ideas to help you win funds and keep your costs down: (be sure to share your newfound knowledge)

  • FAFSA. Learn the acronym. Apply, apply every year. Every year, the U.S. Department of Education gives out more than $120 billion in the form of federal grants, loans and work-study funds to some 13 million college students. It’s the largest provider of student financial aid, and, the money received doesn’t have to be repaid. This year, NerdWallet found that some $2.3 billion in financial aid went unclaimed due to some 36 percent of high school graduates not applying for FAFSA. Use NerdWallet’s FAFSA Guide to ease the application process. Once you have everything in order, it takes about 30 minutes to complete. The 2018-2019 application opened on Oct. 1. What are you waiting for?
  • Apply for scholarships. Lots of them. Never underestimate yourself. There is a scholarship, or 10, for everyone. And scholarship applications are being accepted year round. You just have to look for them. Lucky for you the internet makes this fairly simple. We’ve even found a couple sites to help you out. Sign up for Scholly (www.myscholly.com). Web or mobile app, Scholly has you fill out eight parameters then delivers a verified, personalized list of scholarships. It also has management tools to help you track deadlines and progress. Also check out U Can Go 2 (www.ucango2.org). Here you’ll find a running list of scholarships, sorted by deadline dates and into categories.
  • Look at alternative-housing options. While campus housing is fun and a great place to meet new people, it’s often expensive and not for everyone. If you are attending school close to home, maybe stay a little longer. You can save on housing and food while focusing on school and getting involved on campus. Take the time to join organizations, volunteer and apply for a campus job. Or, look for off-campus housing. It’s often less expensive when you are splitting costs with roommates.

A couple of other things to consider. Textbooks are expensive. If you can, avoid purchasing new books. You may be able to cut costs by sharing a book with a friend or roommate and by looking for a former class taker to purchase a book from. Book stores often buy books back for little to no money, so it could be a win-win for you and the seller. Also, think about skipping campus food. It’s pricey and not all that good. Sure, there may be a salad bar, but the French fry smell from around the corner is enticing. In the dorm or off campus, think about splitting groceries with roommates and eat your meals at home.

Read more of our special section “Crib to College” HERE:

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