Making the transition from high school to college is an exciting time, full of learning and growing as students lay the foundation for a bright future. However, financial concerns can be a barrier to higher education. College costs continue to rise, and student loan debt is a pressing national issue, taking the 2nd place spot for the largest source of debt for U.S. citizens. Though the first option for many parents and students may be to take out loans to cover the cost of tuition, GEAR UP wants you to know: you have options other than student loans! Before you apply for loans, consider these five other avenues.
1. 8-11th Graders: Apply for Oklahoma’s Promise
Established by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1992, Oklahoma’s Promise creates opportunity for families whose gross annual income is $60,000 or less by providing full-tuition college scholarships. In addition to the income threshold, students must be in the 8th, 9th, 10th or 11th grade, as well as meet academic and conduct requirements. If you or your student is in 8th through 11th grades, now is the time to check whether you qualify for this program that could help you avoid student loan debt altogether. Learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise here.
2. 7-12th Graders: Create a 529 Savings Plan
A common misconception among parents is that by the time their student is in middle or high school, it’s too late to save for college. That’s simply not true! It’s never too late to take advantage of the benefits that a 529 savings plan offers. A 529 plan is a state-run savings account that offers tax advantages including tax-free earnings and withdrawals, making it a smart choice for college savings. Even if you create an account a year before your student goes to school, the growth your investment will accrue in a 529 plan can help you pay for college and take out fewer loans. Find the right plan for you here.
3. 7-12th Graders: Apply for Scholarships
You can also supplement financial aid you may receive through Oklahoma’s Promise and others by applying for other scholarships. You’ll be amazed how many options exist for students, ranging from local funds to national scholarships. Now, you’re probably wondering, “How can I easily find the scholarships I’m eligible for?” Check out our favorite databases that you can use to search for and apply for scholarships here.
4. 12th Graders: Apply for FAFSA
Filling out the FAFSA is the only way students can become eligible for federal financial aid. We’ve heard from many students who were surprised by how much aid they received in the form of grants and work-study opportunities, both of which can significantly subsidize the cost of your education and reduce the amount of loans needed. You won’t know how much you can receive until you apply, so if you or your student is in 12th grade, take the time to apply today! Learn more about the FAFSA and why it’s so crucial by checking out our Q&A with School Specialist Jamie Shanks here.
5. 12th Graders: Research Work-Study Opportunities
Once you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll find out whether or not you qualify for work-study, a federal program that pays for college students with financial need to take on part-time jobs to contribute to their tuition. Not only do you receive the financial benefits of taking on a work-study job, but you’ll also be gaining work experience to put on your résumé and making connections, both of which could improve your ability to find full-time employment after graduation. As seniors in high school, students can start researching this option by asking about work-study opportunities at the colleges they are applying to and considering what types of jobs might fit into their long-term career plans.
GEAR UP encourages you to take time to explore approaches to financial aid before taking out student loans. GEAR UP has several resources regarding Oklahoma’s Promise, scholarships, FAFSA and more, as well as school specialists and college coaches available to help you throughout your high school and higher education journey.