Setting the Stage for Success: A Savvy Student’s Financial Planning Guide to College 

Advisor supporting high school student with college prep at a laptop.

Exploring the options 

Embarking on the exciting journey to college is a significant milestone, filled with new experiences, challenges and opportunities. While the thrill of independence and academic pursuits takes center stage, it’s equally vital to spotlight the often-overlooked hero behind a seamless college experience – financial planning.  

With strategic financial planning, the cost of college education becomes manageable. Understanding tuition fees, living expenses and potential scholarship opportunities lays the foundation for a stable financial future.  

Many useful options exist when preparing for the financial aspect of college:  

  1. FAFSA – The first step in receiving any type of federal financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal student aid can include grants, work-study opportunities and student loans. If you are a high school senior, you’ll need to submit the form this year to find out what federal and state financial aid options are available to you. For more information on how and why to apply for the FAFSA, listen to Episode 6 of Higher Ed Hacks. 
  2. Oklahoma’s PromiseOklahoma’s Promise is a scholarship program that helps students like you pursue higher education without worrying about the cost. It offers a unique opportunity for eligible students and unlocks the door to affordable higher education. Connect with your school specialist today to find out more about how to qualify and apply for Oklahoma’s Promise
  3. Concurrent Classes – Enrolling in concurrent classes while still in high school offers an excellent opportunity to begin your foundational courses early and acquire firsthand experience with college-level classes without incurring any costs. Many high schools in Oklahoma offer Early College High School (ECHS) programs, collaborating with nearby colleges and universities to enable juniors and seniors to accumulate college credits. Check to see if your school participates in an ECHS program by clicking here! To learn more about concurrent classes, listen to Episode 1 of Higher Ed Hacks on Concurrent Enrollment. 
  4. Scholarships – Numerous scholarships exist, and you may be eligible for a surprising number of them! Some require writing application essays, but others only require submitting an application. Scholarships are available through many sources including state, college and private organizations—as well as the federal government! Click here to learn about our recommended scholarship databases and start exploring opportunities. 
  5. Community CollegeCommunity college can be a more affordable option to attending a traditional four-year university. On average, community college is one-tenth the price of a university! Often, community colleges offer both summer and online courses to accommodate students wishing to save on overall college costs. 
  6. Work-Study – Many students who qualify for federal student aid also qualify for their university’s work-study program. This program allows college students to take on part-time jobs and apply this income directly to their tuition. Often, they have first choice of on-campus jobs and tend to retain those jobs even if there are university cut-backs. You can research this option by asking the colleges on your list about their current work-study opportunities. 
  7. Calling All Parents: Invested Savings – You or your parents may have the opportunity to start saving as early as today by setting up an Oklahoma 529 account. As you contribute to the account, your money is invested in the market and grows over time, resulting in more savings for your education. Oklahoma 529 account earnings are a non-taxable way to start setting aside money early. Check out their website to learn more about opening an account! 

When Should I Start? 

Start today! It is never too early—or too late to start figuring out the financial side of college. You can make a huge difference in your college costs by investigating any of the scholarship/savings options GEAR UP recommends. A little help here and there can go a long way to paying for higher education.  

Who Should Plan? 

Everyone should plan! Even if you aren’t sure you’ll pursue higher education, researching options can only help you. Often, it opens the door to career opportunities that would not have otherwise been possible. Even students planning to attend a trade school can benefit from financial prep.  

Ready? Set? Go! 

If you’re ready to start the exciting journey of preparing for the financial side of college, connect with your school specialist to determine your next steps. Also, as you get started, check out some of our other standout blogs: 

  • FAFSA Fast Facts: As you prepare for the next step toward college, GEAR UP can provide some clarity and peace of mind on all-things college related. Check out this quick read on all things FASFA!  
  • Before Student Loans: There are many options to consider before applying for student loans. Before you apply, explore these other options.

Additional Resources 

  • For more helpful information on financial planning, listen to episode 5 of Higher Ed Hacks
  • Want to learn more about the FAFSA? Listen to episode 6 of Higher Ed Hacks
  • Episode 1 of Higher Ed Hacks discusses the ins and outs of Concurrent Enrollment.  
  • Looking for scholarships? Check out these top Scholarship Databases
  • For guidance on where to start or for help anywhere in the process, connect with your GEAR UP school specialist