Ways to make a college education as affordable as possible

Strategies to consider...

BeachThe college experience is different for each student. Everyone has a unique goal of what he or she hopes to achieve and apply to a future career. One thing that's common, though, is that college is not only a great investment (people with bachelor's degrees earn over 60 percent more than those with only a high school diploma), it's a significant financial commitment for students and their families.

It's important to design your college experience to reach all of your educational goals, while at the same time not creating a huge burden of debt. Whether you know exactly what you want to do or are still exploring your options, here are some tips to make getting your degree an even smarter investment.

Go for four

While it's become more common to spend five years or more earning a degree, those who can do it in four realize significant savings. If you can avoid adding an extra year, you will not only save approximately $7,500 in tuition*, you will potentially also be earning $49,000 in salary.** And, there is an exponential impact to these savings over several years. (That's not to say that continuing on to graduate school would not be wise, as students with master's degrees increase their income by more than 40 percent over those with bachelor's.)***

LaptopAt Northern, we highly encourage students to explore different academic programs and find the right fit. There's nothing wrong with being undecided or changing majors. But if you're going to change your major, once or a few times, it's best to meet with an adviser to chart out your options and a game plan for meeting the requirements without adding extra time and expense to your education. Actually, it's great to meet with an adviser even if you aren't changing majors. An adviser will work with you to develop a plan of study--which can be flexible--and help you avoid needing to wait until a class is offered again to fulfill a prerequisite and take advanced courses, or getting caught one class short of graduating.

It's best to meet with an adviser or specialist in our Academic and Career Advisement Center to chart out your options and a game plan for meeting the requirements without adding extra time and expense to your education. Actually, it's great to meet with an adviser even if you aren't changing majors. Together you'll develop a plan of study, which can be flexible, and help you avoid needing to wait until a class is offered again to fulfill a prerequisite, or getting caught one class short of graduating.

Ask and you may receive

Students Walking OutsideWhatever your economic status, apply for financial aid, scholarships and other forms of financial assistance. And apply in a timely manner. On average, NMU students receive more than $9,400 in financial aid per year, and 82 percent of our students (90 percent of freshmen) receive financial assistance from outside of their family. Doing well in school may open doors to merit scholarships. Be sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to see what loans, grants and scholarships you may be eligible for. Visit www. nmu.edu/finaid for a step-by-step guide to identify sources of loans and grants to help cover college costs.

Also, don't take out more loans than you really need, and only use them for college expenses (a flat-screen TV doesn't count). Remember, you will have to pay back what you've borrowed.

To drive or not to drive

Bike RackIs owning a car while at college really necessary? The average vehicle costs  $8,000 per year to own and operate (even if you have a junker, it costs around $3,000 per year). The NMU campus is small enough that you can walk to class, or to an on-campus job (or many offered by community employers). Just a few blocks away, there's a grocery store, great restaurants, shops and entertainment. Students can also ride our city buses for free around campus and anywhere in the county. Marquette is a great town for bikes, too (rated one of the best by Bike magazine).

Earn and learn

Make extra money for your educational expenses, help others and practice for your future by being a tutor, writing center assistant, resident adviser, help desk technician, food service worker or student employee in a university department, such as history or business. Students who work part-time while going to college actually do better academically than those who don't. NMU offers a variety of paid internships with partner businesses, too.

Other tips...

  • KitchenPut those advanced high school courses or special skills to work for you in earning college credit though Advanced Placement credit or CLEP exams. You could get the credits on your transcript without paying tuition for them, and be closer to meeting your degree requirements.
  • If you're from farther away, look into taking online courses through Northern during the summer, or classes at your local community college which would transfer to NMU.
  • Take advantage of the many free activities and services at Northern and in Marquette. Spend the day hiking instead of spending at the mall. Get a great haircut at a discount at NMU's cosmetology salon.¬† Cheer on the Wildcats or the sled dogs racing through downtown.

Well worth it

Some opportunities that arise during college are well worth the extra expense or delay in getting your degree. Studying abroad is one of these, although many students are able to apply financial aid to their international experience and continue fulfilling their degree requirements without missing a beat. Employers really value graduates with a global perspective.

* Based on NMU 2009-10 tuition and fees
** Average starting salary for 2009 college graduates, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers
*** U.S. Census Bureau, 2008
**** U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics