Two young women looking at financial information.Cost is understandably one of the biggest concerns about higher education. College is a major investment for students and, often, their parents.

College can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be out of reach due to finances. The cost of earning a degree or certificate can vary greatly and often depends on the choices students make, including:

  • Type of school they attend
  • Degree they are seeking
  • Housing and living expenses

As you help your child plan for college, it is a good idea to research and understand all costs associated with specific degree programs and make a plan for how those expenses will be paid.

Admissions and financial aid officers at the college your child is interested in attending can help you determine those costs.

Financial aid and the FAFSA

Don’t let the sticker price of a college degree scare you. A majority of students receive some type of financial assistance to help offset higher education expenses.

About 85 percent of undergraduate students qualify for federal and/or state financial aid – including grants, scholarships, work-study, and student loans. The U.S. Department of Higher Education and Missouri Department of Higher Education award millions of dollars in financial aid each year to students in Missouri.

To qualify for most financial aid, students – and often their parents – must complete the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You can estimate the amount of federal student aid your child could receive by visiting FAFSA4caster.ed.gov.

Student loans

Many parents worry about student loan debt and the impact it could have on their child’s future. Students who take out loans to pay for college should borrow only what they absolutely need and understand that it will have to be paid back, even if they don’t graduate.

Before taking out a student loan, students should consider the potential income they could earn with the degree they are seeking and determine how much they can afford to borrow and repay.

Keeping costs under control

Student can help keep college costs under control by:

  • Earning college credit during high school by taking dual credit and AP classes during high school.
  • Searching and applying for scholarships every year they are in college.
  • Working 10 to 20 hours a week, if possible, during the school year and more during the summer.
  • “Living like a college student” while in college and following a budget to manage day-to-day expenses.
  • Making a plan to graduate on time by completing an average of 15 or more credit hours a semester and earn an associate degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four  years.

MOST 529 program

You can set aside money to help pay your child’s education by participating in the MOST 529 program, a state-sponsored college savings plan that offers tax advantages. The money can be used for tuition, certain housing expenses, books, supplies, and other qualifying college-related expenses. Find out more at Missourimost.org.

Return on investment

It is important to remember than college is an investment in the future. Students who earn a degree or certificate earn more money over their lifetime, are less likely to be unemployed, and experience greater job satisfaction.