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How to choose an affordable college that's right for you

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

The college application season has officially begun as thousands of students all over the world will begin applying online through the Common Application that opens August 1st for those looking to enroll in the fall of 2019. As you narrow down the list of college choices, remember that getting accepted into your dream school is tough enough, but getting out in four years without completely going broke is tougher than ever. Graduating in six years is increasingly common, particularly at the most selective institutions, with only 40% of students completing their bachelor’s degree on time, per the National Center for Education Statistics.

For those struggling to keep up academically and financially, it’s important to remember that your dream college is one that you can afford, says Arun Ponnusamy of CollegeWise. Especially since every extra year you spend in college can add about $68,153 to your student debt load, an estimate by Complete College America.

Ponnusamy specializes in helping students and their families find the right fit for college. In this interview, he offers his advice to college students struggling to keep up with the costs of the college they’re enrolled in.

If you’re locked into the idea of staying at your school for all four years, your best bet is to secure as much merit-based aid as possible. Not all scholarships are reserved for incoming freshmen, so it’s important to apply and reapply each year to all the scholarships you qualify for, says Ponnusamy.

Because each scholarship has its own criteria for retaining it, students unable to maintain a certain grade point average can lose their awards. Unfortunately, there are thousands who lose some part of their financial aid each year, with no choice but to borrow the difference for their next tuition payment. But Ponnusamy says there could be an argument for students in this situation to either step away from college for a semester to regroup, work and save up, or to transfer to a more affordable school where you can focus on your studies instead of being bogged down with money concerns.

Making the decision to take a break doesn’t mean you’re dropping out. In fact, 60% of gap year participants said the experience helped them choose their major and influenced their future career path, according to the American Gap Association.

For those considering to transfer either temporarily or permanently, work closely with your college advisors and consult at least three members of your faculty before making the move. Because the last thing you want to do is spend more money to repeat courses for credits that ended up being non-transferrable. Every school has different partnerships policies and navigating the process can get complicated so students and families are encouraged to work closely with the financial aid/bursar’s office to come up with the best solution for your situation.


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