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At a crucial time when students must make decisions regarding which college to attend, many are forced to face the financial reality of their educational goals. In many cases, students are forced to lower their expectations or choose career paths that they hadn’t intended because of limited funds to pursue a college education.

A 2013 study conducted by Sallie Mae and Gallup found that while 70% of parents say a college degree is more important than ever in this economic climate, half of the families polled admitted they have no plan for how they’ll pay for it. When the dream of attending college is set, it is important now more than ever to have a road map to achieving that dream. By searching for additional funding, students can pursue a college education without incurring overwhelming debt.

Despite the skyrocketing cost of college, it can still be made affordable. There are many options to help you achieve the dream of completing college and ways to make many choices fit your financial situation.

Junior College vs. a 4-Year Institution

Community colleges offer a broad range of high-quality courses at an average tuition cost of about $3,130 annually — about 35% of the cost of attending a public four-year college, and at 10% or less of the cost for a private four-year college. People attend community colleges for many reasons, including reduced tuition, which helps them save money and acquire less education-related debt. As the cost of higher education continues to grow, this may be an appealing option for many.

According to a report from the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, “the increase in total fall enrollment in the public four-year sector was much smaller than that in the public two-year sector.” However, students continue to choose four-year colleges for many reasons like increased social experiences and specific degrees and careers they are working toward.

Public vs. Private

Like public institutions, prices of private colleges are soaring. Some differences between public and private schools are obvious. But deciding what’s right for you requires shedding light on the subtle distinctions. At private four-year schools, the average published tuition and fees were $28,500 in 2011-2012, an average 4.5% increase from the year before.

In general, private schools have a more rigorous acceptance process. The listed tuition is the highest at private schools, however, what students actually pay for tuition can be lower when a student is interested in a private university and the school is interested in the student. In this case, both parties can begin negotiating tuition by way of grants, merit scholarships and other financial incentives.

Make an Educated Choice & Map the Journey

Families may be willing to stretch financially to pay for college after a child chooses what institution they want to attend and where they get accepted, but it’s important to be smart about how to make it more affordable. Prospective students should bear in mind that reported college pricing does not have to be what students and families pay.

Janna Moore of Tennessee explored her options for college funding. Her father, Shaun Jeffrey Whitehead, who was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, died in 2008 from blast injuries during hostile action when she was a young child. Using financial assistance she received from our organization, she was able to pursue an education at an out-of-state college, the University of Kentucky, where she is now a freshman studying psychology. Because she planned ahead and used available resources, she was able to focus on her education without concerning herself with student loans.

Like Janna, many enrollees do not end up paying full published tuition prices, because they find assistance through additional scholarships. To estimate what the net price of college will be after school aid is taken into account, prospective students should apply for scholarships, work study and cost-cutting programs such as state and regional tuition breaks.

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