By Lizzie Goddard | February 16, 2023, at 10:00 a.m.

Attending college can be a transformative and exciting experience, but it can also be a big financial decision. When planning for college, I wasn’t aware of all the challenges that may come with paying for college.

Here are five things I wish I had known about paying for college before I went:

🔹Start your research early.

Financial aid can help make college more affordable, but starting the research process early is vital. There are many different aspects that go into financial aid.

For example, when I received my financial award letter, it said “work-study,” but I didn’t know that meant I had to work at the college to receive that money. It ended up being a great experience, but I didn’t know what it was until I got to school and had to scramble to find a work-study job.

🔹Consider all of your options.Financial aid is generally awarded based on a student's financial need and academic merit and may include grants, scholarships, or loans.

I loved the college I went to and the experiences I had. I have no regrets and would not change my decision, BUT my mother wanted me to consider all of my options, including attending a state or community school first.

I did not want to hear her out at the time, but now that I look back, it may have been in my best interest to complete part of my credits at a community college or technical school and transfer elsewhere. It would have significantly reduced the student loan debt I took with me after graduating from college.

🔹Types of loans.

Until I graduated college, I was not aware that there are different loan types. I had both private and federal loans that I had to pay back. 

It meant that I was accruing interest on my private loans while I was STILL in school and couldn’t afford to make payments on them. It is essential to be aware of all the terms of the loan.

🔹Finding a part-time job may not be the worst thing.

I thought having a part-time job while in college was a horrible idea. I had a work-study program that probably only gave me about 4-6 hours a week, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s enough work for me.”Student loans often require the student to repay the borrowed amount with interest and can have long-term impacts on students in debt and their future goals.

Now that I look back, it would have been great to find a part-time waitressing job to start paying back some loans while I was in college, even if it was just a small amount. It could have saved me money in the long run.

🔹Long-term impacts.

Students in debt can have long-term impacts on their future goals. I always wanted to own a house right after graduating college, but sadly, that couldn’t happen.

I chose a really expensive college to attend, so not only could I not afford a home, but I would not have been approved for a loan with the amount of student loan debt I had. Be sure to understand the long-term impacts of your loans and plan accordingly.

Above all, make sure you are making the best decisions for yourself. You want to be as informed as possible, so that you look back in ten years and have a positive outlook on your college experience. It can be expensive to go to college, but if you plan ahead and make informed decisions, it will all be worth it!