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The College Dilemma: Balancing Education and Finances



Balancing Education and Finances

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The traditional college experience continues to be attractive to prospective students for many reasons. For example, you can get a high-quality education in several fields. A lot of personal growth happens as well through friendships and extra-curricular activities.

Unfortunately, the cost may keep many students from pursuing this option. Let’s talk more about how college expenses are on the rise and the cost-effective alternatives to a traditional college education at your disposal.

The Rising Cost of Higher Education

It would be ideal if students could afford any college or university regardless of their economic status. However, financial challenges are a common struggle when pursuing traditional higher education paths.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition and fees for 4-year public institutions in the 2021-22 school year was $9,700. Private for-profit institutions averaged $17,800, while private nonprofit institutions averaged $38,800 in tuition and fees.

Most students can’t pay these expenses out of pocket. So, they rely on loans to foot the bill, and that can exacerbate the financial challenges students face. The rising student loan interest rates will make college even more expensive this year in the following ways:

  • Undergraduate Federal Direct Stafford Loans (Subsidized and Unsubsidized) rose to 5.5% from 4.9% the prior year.
  • Graduate Federal Direct Stafford Loans (Unsubsidized) rose to 7.05% from 6.54% the prior year.
  • Direct PLUS Loans (for parents, and graduate and professional students) rose to 8.05% from 7.54% the prior year.

These increases mean that students who borrow federal student loans are subject to higher monthly payments, total interest paid in 10 years, and total cost of the loan.

You also have to factor in what’s going on with our economy right now. The threat of another recession is looming. Moreover, young adults are still recovering from the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both of these things impact a student’s ability to afford a traditional college education.

Cost is one of the biggest barriers between students and their ideal higher education experiences. But don’t give up. Instead, consider the alternatives.

Cost-Effective Study Options for Students

The above statistics would be incredibly defeating if a formal university education was the only option for students. Thankfully, you can still receive the degree you want. You might have to take a different, more affordable route to get it.

Consider these cost-effective study options in place of a traditional college experience.

Start With Community College

Despite what many people think, you can get a great education at a community college. Not only that, most community college programs cost significantly less than a big college or university.

You can finish your core classes, get your associate’s degree, and then transfer to a larger institution to finish your Bachelor’s. Make sure the college or university you want to transfer to accepts your transfer credits.

Consider Trade School

If you’re pursuing a career that doesn’t require a 4-year degree or are interested in a specific trade, consider trade school. You can develop in-depth knowledge and skills that prepare you to start working almost immediately after completing the program. Trade school can help you in the following professions:

  • Welding;
  • Mechanic;
  • Medical assistant;
  • Pharmacy technician;
  • Law enforcement;
  • Information Technology.

Trade schools can cost upwards of $30,000 to complete according to various resources. However, if you’re attending a private nonprofit 4-year university, you could be paying this every year. So, you save a lot of money and can start your career quickly after graduating.

Explore International Education

If you’re open to traveling and immersing yourself in a new culture, why not explore international education opportunities?

At first glance, an international education may seem like it would be more expensive. You have to travel to a new country, set up a life there, and pay for school. However, there are ways to make an international education cost-effective.

It starts with understanding the logistics and practicalities of moving abroad. You must figure out the following details:

  • How you’ll develop friendships;
  • How you’ll ship your belongings;
  • What banking will look like;
  • What job opportunities will be like there;
  • The cost of living in the country you want to move to;
  • How much income you have coming in each month;
  • How you’ll balance studying and exploring your new home;
  • What documents are necessary to live legally in the country.

In addition to how you’ll live in a different country, you need to choose the right college for studying abroad. Look for a country with good schools that have low tuition fees. Also, compile a list of the educational resources you’ll have available to you.

Search for Scholarships

Finally, one of the best financial tips for college students is to apply for scholarships early. This is especially the case if you’re considering an international education.

There are many scholarships available to students to help with college expenses generally and for costs specifically associated with studying abroad. You may even be qualified for a scholarship if you’re planning on studying abroad, if you plan on studying in a specific field, or if you’re a member of a professional organization.


Being a student who wants a traditional college education but can’t pursue it because of financial challenges is hard. You may not be getting your higher education in the way you thought you would be. But there are alternative study options at your disposal should you choose to take them.

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