Friday, May 18, 2012

8 Ways to Get Your Money Right for School

Bastyr's financial aid advisors offer eight steps to position yourself for success before you crack open your first textbook.

Financial aid advisor Meisha Wangerin sits down and helps a student

We're not here to tell you a college education is cheap. We're here to help show you how it's doable. In talking to students of all ages and positions in life, Bastyr University's financial aid advisors have learned several keys to help students succeed financially.

It starts with making sure a Bastyr program is right for you, says Director of Financial Aid Danette Carter.

"Some people who contact us are unsure about what they want to do, and I tell them pretty frankly to consider the financial part, because it's a big commitment," she says. "It's not for everyone.

"But we have so many students who are passionate about what they want to do. The finances become secondary for them, and they find ways to make things work."

Financial aid advisors help students develop a package — often a combination of scholarships, loans and work-study plans — that frees them to focus on their studies. They also suggest other ways students can position themselves for success even before they crack open their first textbook.

Financial Aid staffAvoid credit card debt: This should be a top priority, Carter says. Bastyr's student-aid awards include a cost-of-living allowance that considers expenses like housing, medical bills and day care. But it can't be raised for credit card debt (by federal law). Also, credit cards charge some of the highest interest rates of any debt.

Hold off on a new car: Car payments, like credit card debt, don't count toward raising the cost-of-living allowance. Consider car-pooling and Bastyr's alternative transportation incentives instead.

Scout out scholarships: Scholarships can come from all sorts of organizations — states, professional groups, businesses and many local organizations (Rotary Clubs, veterans groups, churches and such). Bastyr's financial aid website includes a scholarship-finder for tracking them down, and keeping your eyes open will help too.

Take the right classes: Being careful to register for the right courses will ensure you don't pay for classes you don't need or find that required classes are full. "Students don't have trouble with this often unless they change their major," says Carter. "Our advisors do a good job, and the sooner students contact them, the more they can help."

Find housemates: Sharing living space can cut costs dramatically. Along with Bastyr's distinctive Student Village, students find roommates on the University housing board.

Reap the rewards of public service: Health practitioners who work in community health at qualifying nonprofits are eligible for two perks from the U.S. Department of Education. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives any remaining loans after graduates have made payments for 10 years. And the Income-Based Repayment Plan reduces payments to affordable rates for those working in less lucrative jobs.

"For students who feel like they can't take a lower-paying job in public service because of their loans, Income-Based Repayment can give them that option," says Carter.

Watch deadlines: Keeping tabs on key financial-aid application dates is a simple way to avoid stress. Deadlines for fall admission tend to come in April each year.

Relax — and ask questions: Most of all, Carter wants prospective students to know college costs aren't worth losing sleep over. Bastyr students do unusually well in loan repayment and typically find ways to put money concerns in the background while they focus on their future as healing professionals. The easiest way to keep finances low-stress is to ask a lot of questions.

"We truly want people to reach out to us," Carter says. "No question is too simple. We want to help, so never, ever hesitate to ask."

The financial aid office can be reach at finaid[at]bastyr[dot]edu and (425) 602-3083.

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