Chapter 5: Student Finances

Personal Finance

Financial wellness

  • Identify two larger college expenses and two smaller college expenses that you are responsible for. For example, tuition might be a large college expense while notebooks and folders might be smaller ones.
  • Describe any sources of income you currently have to cover these expenses.
  • Explain three financial goals you have for covering your college expenses. For example, you might want to consider work study or creating a budget.
student at FYE booth
The cost of college should never discourage anyone from going after a valuable degree. –Arne Duncan, former United States Secretary of Education

College students often have money concerns, such as affording college while still paying other bills. These concerns can affect academic success because money problems are stressful and may prevent students from concentrating on their studies. Often when students have a lot of personal expenses, they work more hours to cover costs of living, leaving them with less time to study. Worse yet, some money problems, such as extreme debt, may cause students to drop out of college entirely.

Analyzing our financial responsibilities and planning ways to pay for expenses can help reduce stress. The first steps are identifying common college expenses and financial resources and exploring strategies for creating and reaching financial goals.

The Cost of College

Usually, when people hear the words college costs, they think of tuition and room and board. Unfortunately, those costs are only part of the picture. The real cost of college includes a much wider list of expenses, such as the ones below:

  • Tuition: Tuition includes the cost of attending classes which varies by school and depends on how many courses and credits a student takes.
  • Other institution-related fees: Most colleges also charge fees that cover student services such as the library, athletics, labs, and campus maintenance.
  • Room and board: Room and board fees include the cost for housing and meals (usually on campus). These vary by school and region. Students living off-campus and not living at home will have to think about paying rent. Whether living off-campus or in a dorm room, the purchase of household items like furniture and kitchen appliances may also be necessary expenses.
  • Books and supplies: Most students need to purchase books during their college career. They also need to pay for basic school supplies and equipment (backpack, folders, pens, for example). While supply costs can certainly add up, textbooks are usually a big expense for college students. Some MCC courses like COS use Open Educational Resources (OER) to reduce textbook costs, and you can look for OER designations on the schedule of classes to find lower cost courses. Other cost savings ideas include buying electronic books, renting books, and shopping around for the best prices on books and supplies. Students may want to invest in the purchase of a computer or laptop, which may be able to be supported through financial aid.
  • Transportation: Students may also have vehicles that need gas and routine maintenance, or they may need to purchase passes for public transportation.
  • Personal needs and entertainment: Students will need to pay for personal items such as clothing and toiletries. They will also want to spend some money on recreational activities and going out with friends.
Photo of an efficiency apartment
College students are often aware of room and board expenses but may forget to factor in the cost of necessities like furniture, kitchen appliances, and other household items for their dorm or apartment.

Financial Resources

Paying for college is a big challenge, but the following financial resources can help:

  • Jobs: Full-time students may find part-time work on or off campus, while part-time students may work during the day and then take evening classes. Students can also talk to the Fiancial Aid Office about work-study opportunities, which allow students to receive money for completing work related to their studies.
  • Federal Financial Aid Programs: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available here, requires students to answer questions regarding their background and personal finances in order to find out how much financial assistance they might qualify for. The financial assistance comes in the form of government loans, grants, work study, or scholarships.
  • New York State Financial Aid Programs: The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) is a financial aid grant for students meeting residence, income, academic, or other requirements, as established by state law. The New York State Aid for Part-Time Study (APTS) program is a financial aid grant for part-time students meeting residence, income, academic, or other requirements as established by state law.
  • Grants and scholarships: Students can apply for grants and scholarships through their institutions, local businesses, or online organizations. Scholarships may be awarded on the basis of merit (grades, achievements, volunteer work, and so on), financial need (economic status), or some other set of criteria (achievements or ethnic background, for instance). Grants and scholarships do not need to be paid back.
  • Loans: Students can apply for federal loans or personal loans through banks. Unlike grants and scholarships, loans accrue interest and eventually need to be paid back.

Applying for Financial Aid

Applying for financial aid requires planning and organization. Below are steps you can take to increase your chances of getting help paying for college:

Complete the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA)

This free application asks students questions about their background, personal finances, and college. It also provides information about what loans and other types of aid for which students might be eligible. Many students may be unaware of factors that affect how much financial assistance eligibility, such as changes to their parents’ income, the student’s job status, or having a sibling start college. All students need to fill out a new FAFSA application annually.

Complete the New York State Student Aid Application

When you complete your FAFSA online, you’ll be given a link on the FAFSA website to complete the NYS Express TAP Application (ETA). If you fill out a paper FAFSA, you’ll be sent your ETA by mail. You can get a paper application at one of the MCC Financial Aid Offices or download one from the Financial Aid Office’s forms page.

Make Sure the Information Is Accurate: Failure to provide accurate numbers can mean that you may not qualify for all the financial assistance for which you’re eligible. Before you fill out the federal or state financial aid forms, be sure you have collected all the important information you’ll need and that you keep that information in a conveniently accessible place. This necessary information includes your (and your parents’) tax forms, social security numbers, and income statements. The U.S. Department of Education’s Site for Federal Student Aid has more tips on how to effectively fill out your FAFSA application.

Apply for Scholarships

MCC Scholarships: It’s easy to apply for dozens of scholarships through MCC Scholarships Online. Many of these scholarships are funded by generous alumni who were once in your shoes. Once you sign in, complete and submit the online application and provide supporting materials, and you’ll automatically be matched to scholarship opportunities that are appropriate for your unique situation.

Private Scholarships: Check to see if your employer, place of worship, clubs, or volunteer organizations have any grant or scholarship opportunities. Many businesses, civic organizations, and other groups offer scholarships. You’ll need to research and apply for them on your own, but it’s well worth your effort. Here are some additional places to look into for scholarship opportunities:

Write Strong Essays

Many scholarship applications will have an essay component. You can assume that the other students applying for a particular scholarship also meet the basic requirements (a certain GPA or above, specific demographic criteria, etc.), so it isn’t enough to just have good grades or be “eligible” for a scholarship. Often it’s the essay that can really set you apart. Make sure you are answering what is being asked, and take the time to write multiple drafts with family, friends, or teachers providing feedback.

Check Due Dates

Whether you’re filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), applying for state aid, or seeking out scholarships, most organizations will have deadlines. These deadlines ensure that if you are eligible, you will receive your financial assistance in time for the upcoming school year. If other people are helping you with your application—for example, teachers writing letters of recommendation for you—be sure to inform them of the deadlines and give them plenty of notice.

Setting Financial Goals

Setting financial goals for yourself is one of the best ways to track and manage your expenses. The following strategies can help:

  • Create SMART goals: As mentioned in the goals chapter, SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. These kinds of goals are more manageable and can help you reach your final targets more easily. For example, instead of setting a broad, vague goal of “paying for college,” you might set a goal of paying off your two college loans five years after you graduate. This more specific and measurable goal can help you keep track of your progress and whether you need to make changes to reach it.
  • Monitor your spending: Try keeping track of what you spend money on during a one-month period. This can help you see where your money goes and where you may be able to save.
  • Create a budget: Based on what you discovered after monitoring your spending, create a monthly budget you can stick to. While some expenses, such as food and transportation, are necessary, you may find that you can save money on both by riding a bike or carpooling instead of driving to school and eating out less.
  • Consider working: Some students have full-time jobs while attending college, whereas others may not have a lot of time to work if they’re taking a full academic load. Depending on your circumstances, it’s worth looking into employment opportunities both on and off-campus. Even if you feel like only a couple of hours of work per week are possible, it could help you pay for something like books so you have one less thing to worry about when you graduate.
  • Choose loans wisely: Many college students need some sort of financial support through loans. While loans are a good way to pay for tuition upfront if you don’t have the money, remember that they accrue interest until you pay them off. That means that you will end up paying back more—in some cases, thousands of dollars more—than you initially borrowed. Make sure you investigate and apply for as many scholarships and grants as you can since they won’t need to be repaid, and shop around for the loans with the lowest interest rates and best repayment plans. If you are offered a loan, be absolutely sure you need the entire amount before accepting that loan. You do not need to accept a loan even if it is offered to you.
  • Saving and Planning: In the next section we will explore budgeting and other components of financial wellness.

Take some of the above steps to begin creating financial goals for college, and remember it’s important to be aware of the costs of college and all the possible resources available so you can meet those expenses and set the financial goals that are right for you.

Personal spending habits

  • Review your financial aid award letter.
  • Research the college you attend and identify expenses.
  • Review resources in the “Financial Resources” section above that may help you pay for college.
  • Fill out the following table. Be sure to include at least four items under “College Expense.”
College Expense Estimated Cost Payment Plan Ideas



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