• How to Make Friends as an Online College Student

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    How to Make Friends as an Online College Student

    I was never good at making friends. Growing up, I was shy, self-conscious, and generally felt like my few friends made me, rather than the other way around. This was fortunately never much of a problem… until I reached my twenties.

    Suddenly, I found myself living alone in a city wherein I only knew a handful of people: two ex-boyfriends and their families. (Talk about slim pickings.) To top it off, I was working a remote job, so I didn’t even have an office to walk into every day.

    My situation wasn’t unlike that of the average online college student. Lonely and disconnected, how was I supposed to make friends when I didn’t have a traditional institution, like a school or a workplace, to help me?

    I considered simply sitting in my apartment and sulking my days away. But after a couple months of doing just that (hey, I have my bad seasons too), I decided it probably wasn’t the most mature course of action. So, eventually, I took the plunge and—gulp—made some friends.

    Intentionally seeking out friendships ended up being one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. But now, one year later, my world feels like it’s flipped upside down. Far from being stuck at home day in and day out, I’m often saying “no” to invitations because I simply don’t have room in my calendar. I’ve begun building a real life, a real community, from nothing. Slowly but surely, this formerly lonely city is feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever lived.

    Turns out I didn’t need a workplace or college campus to help me build a community, and you don’t either. If you’re an online college student—or considering becoming one—here are 10 ways to ensure your college experience is just as socially enriching as anything you could expect from a campus.

    1. Look around.

    When it comes to making friends, the biggest advantage of a campus is propinquity (that’s a fancy word for “being physically near other people”). On a college campus, you run into people everywhere—in class, on the grounds, in the cafeteria, at your dorm, in the library, at events. Online students, however, tend to spend a lot of their time at home. So, to replicate this aspect of the college experience, start by finding ways to create propinquity.

    Meetup.com, sports leagues, tabletop gaming stores, Facebook events, book clubs, internships, volunteer opportunities, in-person classes at a local college (audit or transfer them into your degree), classes for a hobby you like or want to like, a part-time job—there are endless ways to be around people that don’t involve a campus.

    Start by thinking of something you like to do, then look online to see if other people in your area also do that thing.

    2. Just pick something.

    If you’re a perfectionist, like myself, you might find yourself paralyzed by the list of options I mentioned above. What if you choose the “wrong thing”? What if it’s not fun? What if you don’t like the people you meet? Will you be stuck going to a weekly meetup group even if you don’t think it’s a good fit?

    This advice is for both of us—don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. There’s no magical “best place” to meet people. Whatever event or group you try, you’re not signing up to attend it regularly for the rest of your life. You’re only committing to show up one time. If you like it, you can go back! If you don’t, you can try something else next time.

    3. Keep trying.

    While you don’t have to go back to the first group you try, you probably should.

    Jumping from group to group in search of that elusive “perfect fit” just means you’re always the newbie, no matter where you go. Like I mentioned earlier, you’ll never find a perfect group of perfect people. So unless you got a really bad vibe the first time, give this group a chance. Show up to events over and over again until your newbie status starts to wear off, and you realize that suddenly these new friends feel a lot more like old ones.

    4. Take the lead.

    Waiting for someone to introduce themselves is a great way to stay disconnected. Turns out, humans are pretty skittish creatures. But you know what your dad always said about skittish creatures; they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.

    So take the lead. Always assume that if you want friends, you have to make them. Step up and introduce yourself. Yes, it’s super uncomfortable. Yes, it’s super scary… if that’s what’s holding you back, you might not like my next piece of advice.

    5. Know it’s always scary.

    Sorry, there’s just no way around it. Meeting new people wouldn’t be any less scary if you were on a campus. The only difference is on a campus, it’s harder to hide. As an online student, there’s nothing pushing you to step outside of your comfort zone. You have to choose to do it.

    While you can’t make social anxiety retreat entirely, you can at least make it tolerable by lowering your own expectations of yourself. Don’t go into a brand-new group planning to meet everyone. Just meet one person. And don’t worry about being BFFs by the time you leave either. Just have a conversation.

    It will be uncomfortable. It will be awkward. You may not know what to talk about at first, and you may come away feeling like a fool. But the only way to get better at something is to be willing to be bad at it first. So let yourself be bad at it. Get some practice. Eventually, it’ll become a little less scary. (Probably.)

    6. Care.

    While uncomfortable first conversations are often inevitable, these can be made dramatically less awkward by simply caring about the other person.

    Don’t just try to “survive” the conversation. Make an effort to actually get to know the person you’re talking to. What’s their story? Where were they born? What is their family like? What are they majoring in? Where do they work? What do they enjoy doing outside of work? Who are they watching/reading/listening to? What are their life goals? What inspired them to pursue those goals? What are they good at? What are they bad at?

    Any one of these questions might help you discover a natural way to connect with whoever you’re talking to, transforming your conversation into—well—a conversation, rather than simply a barrage of questions.

    7. Assume they care too.

    While asking questions is great, no one likes being interrogated. Be willing to talk about yourself too. This means assuming the other person is interested in listening—because, usually, they are.

    So if, in your attempt to get to know them, you learn about something that clicks with you—maybe you grew up in the same town or you like the same books—be willing to share your own experience. This is how natural connections form.

    And if nothing clicks? That’s okay, it might take a few conversations (even with the same person) before you really connect. Of course, some people just never click with you at all, and that’s okay too. You don’t have to be friends with everyone.

    8. Don’t be picky.

    I’m 25 years old, and one of my very best friends just turned 60. Just because a person doesn’t seem like a good fit for you doesn’t necessarily mean that you weren’t somehow made for each other.

    While it is important to find friends who are experiencing the same stage of life as you, don’t pass up the opportunity to meet someone completely different. College is all about trying new things, meeting new people, gaining new experiences, and being exposed to new ideas. What better way to do all of that then to make a friend you never would have imagined for yourself?

    9. Be hospitable.

    Once you’ve met a few people you click with, take things a step further! Invite them to a movie, host a game night, or, if you’ve found other online students, meet up at Starbucks for a study group. This is a great way to get to know people better and let them know you’re interested in being more than just a casual acquaintance.

    Community isn’t just about meeting up at events. It’s about living life together. So if it’s a deep connection you’re after, allow one to take root by inviting people into your life and just seeing what happens. Over time, you might find that all your hard work allowed you to cultivate something truly one-of-a-kind.

    10. Be patient.

    Friends aren’t made overnight. Especially if you’re starting from scratch, you’ll still have to face your fair share of lonely evenings and boring Saturdays. But that’s just part of life, regardless of how many friends you have.

    Paradoxical as it sounds, one of the most valuable skills I learned in my attempt to make friends was how to enjoy being alone. Initially, I wanted to make friends because I didn’t like being alone. I wanted to avoid it as much as possible. So, I started pouring a lot of effort into reaching out, meeting new people, suffering through awkward conversation, and being the newbie at events. This lead to me feeling frustrated at my “lack of immediate results.” I wanted friends now, but that’s just not how it works.

    After finally realizing that community-building would take some time—that I’d just have to keep showing up before I felt like part of a group—I started doing what I could to make solitude something I genuinely enjoyed. I started hanging out with myself the way I’d want to hang out with a friend. For me, that meant cooking myself nice dinners, going for walks, visiting new parks or restaurants, shopping, reading fascinating books, and even getting into a crazy skincare regimen that one of my long-distance friends swore by.

    Learning to enjoy (and even look forward to) being alone made it so much easier for me to be patient and allow my new relationships to grow in their own time. Plus, I ended up making one of the best friends of all—myself!

    Why bother?

    If you were hoping this post would make friendship-building sound easy, I’m sorry to disappoint. In my experience, building a community from scratch involves a lot of lonely social outings, awkward conversations, expended energy, and just plain work and patience.

    So why do it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just… go to a campus?

    Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn’t. Meeting new people is almost never fun (unless you’re a super extrovert), and while going to a campus might give you a little extra push out of your comfort zone, it’s important to remember that college eventually ends. People move. Jobs change. The friends you make now won’t necessarily be around forever. Eventually, you’ll have to make new ones, which means you’ll still have to face everything we’ve already talked about in this post.

    So why not just do it now?

    Yes, it’s hard. Adulthood is hard. Get over it. Better yet, step into it. Taking the advice in this post will help you do more than just build a community now; it’ll give you the skills to build one wherever life takes you.

    Isn’t an entire lifetime of future friends worth a little discomfort in the present?

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

  • How Does College Work?

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    how-does-college-work

    At Accelerated Pathways, we hear a lot of questions about how college works.

    “How many credits are in a bachelor’s degree?”

    “How do you transfer credits between colleges?”

    “… what’s a credit?”

    Never fear, we’re here to help.

    For over 10 years, Accelerated Pathways has been helping students craft bachelor’s degrees according to their budgets and life goals. That means we’ve worked with with a lot of colleges.

    I mean a lot.

    But being so thoroughly familiar with the ins and outs of the college system doesn’t do us any good unless we’re sharing that knowledge with readers like you.

    In this post, I’ve gathered every Accelerated Pathways blog post that can help answer the question “how does college work?”

    Whether you’re hoping to get started on your scholarship search or just want to know what in the world “PSY 134” means, we’ve got your back. Our goal with this post is to take the confusion out of college.

    Happy reading!

    Degrees and Credits

    How Many Credits Do I Need for a Bachelor’s Degree?

    If you’re considering college, it’s important to know how the system works, especially if you’re hoping to transfer colleges at any point. That all starts with knowing how bachelor’s degrees are structured.

    What Level of Education Do I Need?

    So, how are you to know what level of education you need? Is a high school diploma enough? Is the master’s degree really the new bachelor’s? Do you need a Ph.D. in order to be taken seriously in your field? Let’s figure it out.

    What Exactly Are General Education Credits?

    Gen Ed, or General Education, are credits that make up an important part of every college degree. In this post, we dive into what they are.

    Bachelor’s of Arts vs. Bachelor’s of Science

    What is the difference between a BA and a BS, and which one should you choose? In this blog post, one of Accelerated Pathways' Academic Advisors answers this question for good.

    Community College

    5 Most Expensive Community College Myths

    Thinking community college will save you money? It might. But not if you fall for the 5 most expensive community college myths.

    How to Not Waste Money on Community College

    Community college isn’t guaranteed to save you money. But if you’re savvy about how it works, it miiiiight be an okay option. Here are 8 ways to ensure you’re not throwing your money away on community college.

    Dual Credit

    Dual Credit: How Much is Too Much?

    Dual credit is kind of like kale and Christmas decorations–too much of a good thing is indeed... too much. It is easy to get carried away earning college credits that won’t ultimately apply to your chosen degree. But how many should you take?

    AP vs. Dual Enrollment—What’s the Difference?

    Advanced Placement courses or dual enrollment are two great options for earning dual credit in high school—but which is better for your student? In this article, we discuss the differences between them to help you answer this question.

    Transfer Credit

    Why Won’t My Credits Transfer?

    Why do so many colleges disagree on what it takes to graduate? The answer is simple. Unfortunately, navigating the process... isn’t.

    How to Transfer Colleges Without Losing Credit

    It’s absolutely possible to transfer colleges without losing a single credit. These 5 steps will teach you how.

    Course Codes 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Course Codes and Transfer Credit

    Transfer credit can be an efficient way to save thousands on college... as long as you know those courses will transfer. But how do you know which courses will transfer before taking them? The answer: college course codes.

    How to Transfer Community College Credits to University

    40% community college students tend to lose most of their credit upon transfer, but you don’t have to be one of them. This post teaches you the steps you can take to ensure your community college credit transfers safely to your bachelor’s degree.

    Paying for College

    How Do Scholarships Work?

    Everything you need to know about scholarships, how to get them, and whether you even need to earn one in the first place.

    What is Financial Aid?

    What if FAFSA? How does financial aid work? What does "aid" even mean? In this post, one of our very own Admissions Counselors answers these questions and demystifies the term "financial aid" once and for all.

    What is a 529 Plan (And Should I Have One)?

    What is a 529 savings plan? How does it differ from a prepaid tuition plan? Are these things you should have? And if you do have one, what can you do with it? In this post, we answer all these questions and more.

    How Student Loan Debt Ruins Your Life

    While you may think getting your degree—no matter what it takes—will set you ahead, student loan debt might actually end up being the ball-and-chain you carry around your neck for decades.

    4 Things to Do Before Considering Student Loans

    Students often assume student loans will be an inevitable part of their college experience. But they don't have to be. Here are 4 very real, very helpful things you can do to ensure you graduate debt free.

    How to Calculate Your Degree’s Return on Investment

    Considering your degree's long-term effects on your finances can save you from a life of debt. How can you ensure you're not investing too much money in your degree?

    Why is College so Expensive? College’s Sneakiest Expenses and How to Avoid Them

    Check out how four perfectly normal decisions (that don’t even seem “that bad”) can send your college costs soaring thousands of dollars higher than you expected.

    Majors

    What Should I Major In?

    If you’re stressing about choosing a major, you’re not alone. This free ebook, What Should I Major In, will walk you through every step you need to consider when picking a college major, so you can begin your studies with confidence!

    Why Your College Major Doesn’t Matter

    Is trying to pick a major stressing you out? Put down the pros and cons list and stop Googling every emphasis, minor, and elective you find. Here’s why your college major doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

    What is STEM?

    I’m sure you’ve heard how important STEM is. But do you even know what STEM is? Or why it’s important? Or if it’s right for you? This post will help you answer those questions.

    16 Highest Paying Majors (That Aren’t STEM)

    Being uninterested in STEM doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be a starving artist. Despite common belief, you can work in the arts, education, or social sciences and earn an above-average salary.

    What You Should Know If You’re Considering an Accounting Degree

    As an artistic book worm, I was an unlikely accountant for sure. However, by pursuing this most unlikely degree choice, I discovered accountants are more than stern, semi-monastic gurus of great financial mysteries. They're organizers on steroids.

    Should I Get a Music Degree?

    Like any artistic endeavor, music isn’t a surefire way to secure a comfortable job with status and money to spare. You’re often going to be working twice as hard for half as much, all for your heartfelt love of the chromatic scale. Will a music degree give you the extra edge you need?

    What You Should Know About Organizational Leadership

    Leadership in its simplest form is beneficial, proactive influence. Even if you’re an entry-level employee at a coffee shop, movie theater, or fast casual restaurant, you can take the initiative and show leadership.

    What Every Marketing Major Should Know

    I know deciding whether to get a marketing degree or self-teach feels like a huge, scary, life-defining choice with no going back. But that’s not true. Truth is… you might want to do both.

    6 Tips Every Communications Major Should Know

    Majoring in communications isn’t a cop-out. In fact, it just may be the perfect way to prepare for your future career—as long as you keep these six tips in mind.

    English Majors, listen up! Here’s How to Make the Most of Your Degree

    Thinking of getting an English degree? Here’s what you’ll need to know to get the most out of your education.

    Making the College Choice

    Is College the Best Way to Get an Education?

    Everyone knows that going to college is simply the best way to set yourself up for success down the road. Or is it? In this post, we delve into this question.

    What Every College Dropout Should Know

    We all know college isn’t necessarily right for everyone. But before you trade your walk across the stage for a walk out the door, here are four things every college dropout should know.

    Should You Go to College?

    Going to college is no longer a no-brainer. So before you take out a $30,000 loan for something you may not even need, ask yourself the hard question: should you go to college?

    Should I Go to College?

    College is important. Especially in today’s society, with so many jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree as a minimum bar to entry. But is it important for you? This can be a challenging question to answer...

    Can’t find the answer you’re looking for? Just send us an email at enrollment-ap@pearson.com! We’d love to help you out. (Who knows, your question may just inspire a post that ends up on this list.)

     

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

  • How Do Scholarships Work?

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    how-do-scholarships-work

    Every high schooler hears the same old speech. "No money for college? Scholarships are your golden ticket!"

    But don’t you have to be some kind of high school super genius to get a scholarship? Not necessarily. There are literally millions of scholarships available for up-and-coming college students, and almost as many ways to earn them. It just takes time and effort to find them, which is exactly want to help you with.

    Ready?

    What is a Scholarship?

    The short answer: money awarded to a student for the purpose of academic study. At first glance, scholarships, grants, and financial aid sound pretty similar. However, they have a few key differences:

    Financial aid is the blanket term for any financial assistance a student may need for college—whether that help comes in the form of a grant, loan, or scholarship.

    Grants are “free money” typically awarded based on the student’s financial needs. They don’t need to be paid back. Student loans are borrowed money that is basically freely available to anyone, and they do need to be paid back. With interest.

    Scholarships fall into neither of these categories. Scholarships are privately-funded, free gifts of money. They’re not just given to anyone, but unlike grants, scholarships must be earned.

    Types of Scholarships

    When I was a student considering scholarship application, I imagined getting a full ride to whichever college wanted me most. While this kind of scholarship does exist, it’s by no means the only kind you can win. (Which is good… because it’s really hard to get one of those.)

    The full spectrum of scholarships range from just a couple hundred bucks to thousands and thousands of dollars, and it’s not just colleges who award them. Communities, religious institutions, and even private citizens all want you to earn your degree. And they’ll help you out a lot, if you can prove you deserve it.

    Here are your basic scholarship categories:

    • Academic Scholarships - awarded based on academic performance throughout high school

    • Athletic Scholarships - awarded based on performance in a sport

    • Minority Scholarships - awarded to students who ethnically represent a minority

    • Women Scholarships - awarded to women (typically career-minded ones)

    • Creative Scholarships - awarded to students of the arts based on artistic performance

    • Community Service Scholarships - awarded based on leadership or involvement in the community

    • Competition Scholarships - awarded based on performance in a competition

    • Unusual Scholarships - awarded for literally anything else... like your ability to make a killer duck call or write a good essay about fire sprinklers. (Yes, those are both real scholarships. Google them.)

    How to Find and Apply for Scholarships

    Okay, so understanding scholarships isn’t that difficult. What about actually landing one? Since I’m not a scholarship expert, I decided to get advice from someone who is.

    Rebecca Decker, one of our Academic Counselors, has helped thousands of students navigate the “how do I pay for college” question for over 7 years. She’s coached hundreds of students through the scholarship application process, so I figured she’d be the perfect person to ask for advice.

    Rebecca recommended a simple, 3-step process that will not only ensure you’re covering all your bases, but it’ll also remove the giant ball of stress churning in your stomach.

    1. Have a Plan of Attack

    Rebecca recommends starting the application process the summer after your Junior year of high school. However, it’s not as simple as just starting.

    Applying for scholarship after scholarship can be long and grueling, and the worst part is every scholarship is a little different. Most require essays, many require letters of recommendation, and some require even more work beyond even that.

    If earning a college scholarship is important to you and your future, you can’t go in blind. You need a plan.

    Unfortunately, predicting how many scholarships you’ll actually earn is nigh impossible. But you can at least decide how much effort you’ll be putting into the application process.

    You can choose how much time to invest, how many scholarships you’ll apply for, etc.

    When she was a student, Rebecca’s personal goal was to apply for 3 scholarships every Friday night. She treated it like a job. No matter how long it took, her responsibility was to apply for 3 scholarships every Friday night.

    Once you’ve created your plan of attack, share it with your parents. Not only can they help keep you accountable, but this will also set firm expectations of how much effort you’re putting into this process. No one should be left resenting your “lack of effort” when the tuition bills start rolling in.

    2. Sign Up With a Search Engine

    The best way for the modern student to apply for scholarships is to use any of the million and one scholarship search engines that populate the web.

    Some students think it’s advantageous to set up and manage profiles on multiple engines, but the truth is each engine typically searches the same pool of available scholarships. So save yourself the headache by sticking with just one or two.

    When I asked Rebecca which scholarship search engine she recommended, she didn’t hesitate for a second: fastweb.com. This site has you complete a general questionnaire when you set up your profile. Based on your answers, it will filter your view of the 1.5 million scholarships available, giving you easy access to every scholarship you’re eligible for.

    Setting up the account is easy. But remember it doesn’t actually submit the applications for you—that’s your job.

    3. Make It Happen

    You couldn’t apply for a scholarship because someone hasn’t finished a reference letter? That’s not a good excuse. Remember, finding scholarships is 100% your project, and it’s up to you to make sure it happens on time.

    Your teachers and friends are busy people, and they may not have the time or brain space to write five reference letters for you.

    Take the lead and make the process easy for everyone: ask your reference-givers to each write a single letter and give them a deadline (nicely). Get permission to mass-produce it and then print out multiple copies with a note at the bottom stating you were given permission to mass-produce. Once you’ve printed out as many letters as you think you’ll need, bring the stack back to the author, so they can sign the copies all at once.

    Winning scholarships takes effort, but with good leadership and creative organization, you can make the whole process easier on everyone involved.

    If you really want to earn that money, leave your excuses behind and make things happen.

    Beyond Scholarships

    I wish I could tell you exactly what to apply for and how to write a winning essay. But the fact is, since the scholarship pool is so varied, the best thing you can do is follow the steps outlined above and just jump in.

    However, I can leave you with one final piece of advice: while scholarships are a great way to pay for college, they may not be the best way.

    Applying for scholarships is a lot of work, often for very little reward. Pushing for a free ride to a $40,000 a year school may simply be unfeasible. So in addition to earning scholarship money, consider lowering your overall college costs in other ways.

    Saving money on college is our specialty here at Accelerated Pathways. With our help, most Accelerated Pathways students end up cutting their college costs in half. And they don’t have to file out a single scholarship application to do it. If you’re interested in making your bachelor’s degree affordable without bothering with the whole scholarship thing, we can help.

    Either way, good luck on your college journey!

    Enjoyed this post? You might also like How Does Financial Aid Work?

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

  • What Every College Dropout Should Know

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    What Every College Dropout Should Know

    I have a confession to make: I don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

    I know, I know. I’ve been working for Pearson—a company that literally exists to help put students through college—for over 6 years now. What excuse could I possibly have for not having my degree?

    Listen… I’m totally in favor of people becoming more educated, developing wisdom, growing up, and participating in the privilege of higher education. I even participated myself for a while! I completed 96 credits of my 120-credit English degree, thank you very much. Of course, those 96 credits are hardly comforting when all I have to show for it is... a high school diploma.

    I had some very specific reasons for leaving school, though. First off, I was going through a very intense time in my personal life. I had a lot to deal with emotionally and mentally, and I was breaking under the pressure of managing school on top of that. But secondly, after taking a hard look at my interests and the direction of my career, I realized… I already had the job I wanted. I didn’t need a bachelor’s degree to get in the door. And I was much more interested in pouring my time and energy into my work than I was in spending another few thousand dollars to finish up a degree I would never use.

    So, I dropped out. It’s been three years since then, and I’m still doing just fine.

    My choice was a fairly controversial one. The term “college dropout” bears an unfortunate stigma, so friends and family tend to get skittish when you float the idea. And they have good reason to. The bachelor’s degree has kind of become the new high school diploma—a minimum barrier to entry into much of the workforce. The vast majority of employers expect you to have one.

    Call me a rebel, but I’ve never been one to do something simply because it’s expected.

    But don’t think my choice to skip the degree means I’m handing you a Get Out of Jail Free card. I’m not going to tell you what to do with your life or education. I just want to have a little chat about the realities of choosing a job over college.

    1. Skipping college is a legitimate option.

    Let’s just get one thing cleared up right away: jumping straight into the workforce after high school isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. I realize that going to college is the assumed next step for most of us, but it’s still a choice. Choosing not to doesn’t make you stupid, lazy, or unwise. There are a lot of reasons skipping might be the best choice for you.

    For one thing, college is expensive. When a year of college can cost as much as a downpayment on a house, it’s worth being absolutely certain it’s the right path for you.

    After all, graduating college isn’t the only way to start a career. Over 60% of U.S. jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree. And a lot of those pay really well! If you’re interested in pursuing one of these fields, why spend time and energy earning a credential you don’t need?

    Maybe you’re still interested in going because you want “the college experience.” I’ll give you that. Going to college does offer a lot of experience, not just within the classroom, but outside of it too. You get to live on your own, interact with people from other backgrounds, make choices (and mistakes) that teach you about yourself, the world, and life. But college isn’t the only way to get that experience.

    Getting a job, meeting new people, serving, traveling, volunteering, getting married and having kids, taking up hobbies, starting a business—these are all great ways to engage in the myriad of non-scholastic opportunities life has to offer. None of them will earn you a credential, but they will make you more educated, wiser, and (hopefully) a better person.

    And that’s great because, frankly, college just isn’t for everyone. Formal education is an amazing privilege, but not every learner thrives in the classroom environment. Plenty of students have difficulty fitting in with the structure of academic study. And for some people, that struggle is enough to snuff out their spark for learning. These folks often end up dropping out simply for the freedom of learning without a syllabus. 🙋🏻‍♀️

    I’m not telling you any of this in order to discourage you from earning a bachelor’s degree. As I’ve mentioned already, I think college is a fantastic option for a great many people, especially those hoping to work in white-collar industries. I’m just saying that attending college shouldn’t be assumed.

    2. You’re taking a risk.

    While there’s nothing inherently wrong with skipping college, it’s not a decision you want to make lightly.

    Bachelor’s degrees aren’t irrelevant. Many HR departments require applicants to hold one to even be considered for employment (whether or not the role requires such an education). Students who earn their bachelor’s degrees also tend to make more money than those who don’t. And while 60% of jobs may not require a degree… that means that 40% do.

    Choosing not to earn your degree is definitely risky. So challenge your own decision. Ask yourself why you’re choosing a different path and carefully consider the consequences.

    Perhaps your future career doesn’t require a degree. Cool. But what about the positions beyond the specific job you’re considering? Will you need that degree in order to move up?

    Perhaps you just don’t like classroom-style learning. But what if you could complete a degree outside of the classroom? Would you do it then?

    Perhaps college is too expensive. You don’t want to take out loans. What if you found a way to make it affordable?

    Ask yourself the tough questions and answer them honestly. Leave every option on the table until you’ve determined what you need to prepare for the future you want. Is college the best way to reach your goals?

    Only you can answer that.

    3. Forgoing a degree now doesn’t mean you’ll never get one. (But it might make getting one harder.)

    Don’t assume that skipping for now means skipping forever.

    In fact, a year or two in the workforce may be exactly what you need to succeed in school: your life experience will undoubtedly influence what major you pick, what school you choose, how you choose to study, and where you go after graduation. (And, bonus, working a full-time job for a couple of years will help you save up the cash to afford that degree debt free.)

    However, this does come with a caveat: going back to school once you’ve started working is really hard.

    You’re making real money now and have probably acquired real expenses to go along with it. You’ve developed routines, cultivated a social life, and are spending a great deal of time simply keeping your life running smoothly. Going back to school will require some painful sacrifices.

    This is one of the reasons so many students are encouraged to start college directly after high school. High school students are still used to the rhythm of studying full time and typically don’t have any conflicts of interest; doing well in school remains their top priority. So while it doesn’t have to be done this way, it is a bit easier.

    But all that said, going to school down the road is far from impossible, especially if you have a clear vision for why you’re going and, maybe, some help along the way.

    4. You don’t have to choose.

    You’re still very young. You don’t know what the future is going to hold. You don’t know for sure if you need degree. You do know that bachelor’s degrees are valuable, but you also know you need more than just a degree to reach your goals—you need experience too.

    So why choose? Get both!

    That’s the path I opted for by pursuing my degree through Accelerated Pathways. At the time, I was working 45 hours a week in a fast-food restaurant. I liked my job and was gaining great work experience. I didn’t want to give that up, but I also didn’t know what the future held. As much as I wanted the work experience, I also craved the security of a universally-respected credential.

    Thanks to Accelerated Pathways' incredible flexibility, I didn’t have to choose.

    I eventually took a job in sales which led to my current position, writing full time (i.e. my dream). Through each of these roles, Accelerated Pathways was able to keep me on track with my college studies without impeding my career growth. Plus, it was affordable enough that I never had to take out a student loan.

    So even though I eventually chose not to finish, I was thankful that I didn’t have to make that choice before giving both working and studying a good “college try.” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

    Was working and studying full time difficult? Yes. But was it worth it? Absolutely. I gained so much confidence knowing I was working through my degree while building an impressive resume and portfolio of work I was proud to showcase. I knew no matter which direction my life turned, I was prepared.

    So, at the risk of telling you what to do (even though I told you I wouldn’t), don’t be so quick to limit your options, especially if you don’t yet have a clear vision for your future. Find an option that allows you to pursue education and experience at the same time. Your path will likely become pretty darn clear pretty darn fast, which will give you the confidence you need to charge head-first into your future, whether that means finishing your degree or not.

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

  • When It's Okay to Break the Rules

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    break-the-rules

    Sometimes I eat dessert before dinner. Should I?

    Growing up, my family lived by the standard “no desserts before dinner” rule that every child under 15 knows all too well.

    Now that I’m 23 and living on my own, when I decide to skip the veggies and sink my teeth into a deliciously moist bite of double chocolate cake with fudge frosting, should I be rebuked? Should my mother fly to Texas from her cozy Florida home and put me in Time Out?

    Of course not, and for one simple reason: being 23 and living exactly 984 miles away from my parents is a pretty good indicator that I’m not a child anymore.

    But what does that mean for all the childhood rules I grew up with?

    Why Do We Have Rules?

    Life is a series of choices. Facing adulthood means facing a lot of deep questions that you don’t know how to answer. For the first time, it’s actually up to you to answer them. Mom and Dad aren’t here to take away your cake.

    That’s why we have rules.

    Traditions and rules are a necessary part of a productive life. Having solid routines in place can help free a lot of brain space when deciding what’s for lunch or what time you should get up in the morning.

    And they’re not just for simple routines, either. Society even gives us a general “life template” to follow: go to school, go to college, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, repeat.

    This is often what people refer to as “the status quo.” And let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with following it.

    But following a rule just because it’s there is not only silly, it’s downright absurd.

    Each rule is made for a reason. Each is crafted to fit a specific situation. That means not every rule will apply to every situation, and not every rule will apply to you. In fact, many rules contradict each other!

    Things change. Times change. People change. You change. And if your rules don’t change too, you run the risk of holding yourself back from fulfilling your unique purpose.

    How to Break the Rules (Wisely)

    So what exactly am I proposing? Throwing everything out and making up your own rules as you go along?

    I guess that’s one way to do it, but it doesn’t seem much healthier than blindly following rules without question. You want to forge your own path, not get lost in the woods.

    What I’m actually suggesting is this:

    As you grow and change, as you’re faced with hard choices and possible new paths to walk, carefully revisit the old rules you feel are “holding you back.” Examine them, but don’t throw them out just yet.

    Instead, use wisdom and prudence to carefully craft a new, revised set of rules that will help you reach your goal and become the person you want to be.

    Here’s how:

    1. Understand Why a Rule Exists

    As I mentioned before, rules are created for a reason. And no, that reason usually isn’t “wanting to ruin your fun.”

    Most rules are put in place either to:

    1. Protect you from something harmful

    2. Push you toward something good

    It’s likely that, as you grow and mature, specific rules themselves will no longer apply. Why? Because you have the wisdom and resources to either avoid a particular harm or partake in a particular good without needing a reminder.

    Adults are allowed to eat dessert first.

    But before you do, it’s wise to understand exactly what you’re giving up (or gaining) in the process. The dessert rule was set for a reason. In this case, to protect you from something that could hurt you.

    Your parents didn’t want you losing your appetite, refusing to eat nutritious food, and becoming malnourished.

    That’s easy deduction.

    However, we can still dig a little further. Rules are often much more complex than we think, and they serve many different purposes at once. There are more benefits to giving dessert its proper place.

    Prioritizing healthy food will improve your self image. It will also make your dessert taste better. And the small act of delaying gratification can build character and help you become a generally balanced and generous person.

    There’s a surprising amount of depth and character development to be found in such a simple rule! And it’s these motivations that comprise the spirit of the rule.

    What fundamental parts of your character is the rule shaping?

    2. Examine your needs

    Now that you understand the motivations behind the rules you’re questioning, ask yourself: what do you want or need?

    It’s tempting to throw rules out because they’re inconvenient, or don’t give you what you want now. Beware of this tendency—it lurks within all of us. If you’re taking on the responsibility of writing your own rule book, you’re also taking on the responsibility to do so… well… responsibly.

    You may have a very good reason to nix the no-cake-before-dinner rule.

    “I’ve realized I have an unhealthy fascination with diet strictness. My perspective on food has taken the enjoyment out of eating, and limiting my food choices is encouraging me to under eat. I need to feel free to eat anything I want for a while.”

    That’s a good reason for change!

    “I’m an adult, gosh darn it. I can do what I want, and what I want to do is eat cake.”

    That’s an excuse.

    Take time to understand what you want and need for your life. Evaluate which of your desires are legitimate and which are excuses.

    3. Create new rules

    Now put it all together.

    Creating new rules haphazardly is a surefire way to wind up unhealthy and unproductive. You have no basis to know whether that rule will actually help you achieve your goals!

    Don’t just throw out your old rules. Update them. The best way to create rules that work for you is to reconcile the wisdom of the past with your desires for the future.

    For example, I find that when I eat my chocolate cake is irrelevant. But I know myself and my tendency to go back for just another bite (or ten). So I made my new rule: I am allowed to eat my cake before dinner if I want, but I’ve limited myself to eating only one “treat” per day.

    This keeps me generally healthy (following the spirit of the original rule) while allowing me the freedom I desire to eat cake before dinner on a bad day.

    How can you create something that solves your needs without throwing out the wisdom of the rule in the first place? Get creative!

    This may mean admitting an old rule really is the best way to go and keeping it in your life. It may look like chucking the old rule out entirely. Or it may mean updating an old rule in a way that better serves your personality and your life.

    Knowing why you’re following a tradition, trend, or rule is important. Not only does this line of thinking challenge you to truly understand your values and goals, but it will also give you an extra dose of confidence when the naysayers inevitably call you out.

    You didn’t make your choice arbitrarily. You’re not blindly following in someone else’s footsteps.

    You’re using their footsteps as a guide to help you forge your own path—one you believe in and that will help you reach your fullest potential.

    This philosophy is at the core of how we here at Pearson approach education...we're always learning better ways to do things! If you’d like to find out how forge your own path and do college differently, check out our Accelerated Pathways program.

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

  • How I Got a Job from One Conversation

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    how-i-got-a-job-from-one-conversation

    My excitement erupted like a pack of Mentos splashing into a river of Diet Coke.

    I found Dave sequestered in the lobby of a student conference, using the sign-in table as an impromptu desk. Attending the conference as staff, we were squeezing in work between workshops, sessions, and socialization.

    Dave mentioned his most recent project, video scripts to showcase our products, and I was immediately intrigued. I had dreams of building a writing career, so any conversation surrounding the topic often reignited my zeal.

    Unfortunately, Dave wasn’t as excited.

    I sincerely wished him the best of luck as I claimed a quiet corner for my own impromptu office. As an Admissions Representative, I had calls to make and emails to answer.

    Not five minutes later, I saw Dave coming my way.

    “Would you like to write these scripts?” He asked. “It would really help me out.”

    My heart leapt into my throat. After all the time I had spent learning, practicing, and perfecting my craft, here was my opportunity to shine, handed to me on a silver laptop.

    One draft and two revisions later, I was invited to write three more scripts; this time for the marketing department. Before I knew it, I was helping out with minor editing jobs on top of my normal duties as an Admissions Rep.

    After 2 months of squeezing two jobs into one 40-hour work week, I was able to transfer into a full-time position position as a writer.

    My dream career was finally beginning.

    Make the Most of the Waiting Room

    Before what turned out to be a life-changing chat with Dave, I didn’t know what future was waiting for me or when it would come. I felt like I was in a waiting room.

    But that wasn’t a bad thing.

    Do you remember how awesome waiting rooms were as a kid? There was a never ending supply of exciting activities: toys, puzzles, and magazines. (Highlights, anyone?)

    But then we grew up and waiting rooms became something to be dreaded and gotten through as quickly as possible.

    When did waiting become a passive activity? What if waiting rooms were still the embodiment of freedom, fun, and endless possibilities? A place to use your imagination, to experiment, and to build your chops before your name is called for the next opportunity?

    Do you want to be ready to take your shot when it comes? Take a lesson from your inner child and get lost in these 4 activities while you wait.

    Activity # 1 - Stop Slacking and Build Skills

    What if that initial conversation had gone more like this:

    Dave: “I’m working on video scripts to showcase our products.”

    Me: “Wow! That’s something I’ve always wanted to do! But instead of working on my craft, I’m working through Friends for the fifth time. Isn’t Netflix autoplay brilliant?”

    If you want to take advantage of future opportunities, you need to hone your skills now. Whether it’s directly related to what you want to do or not, there’s always something new to learn. Take initiative and find new ways to expand your skill base.

    Activity # 2 - Crush Your Current Job

    I was only at that conference because of my job.

    Was it my dream career? Not even close! Every day I was challenged to do something that doesn’t come naturally to me: talk to strangers on the phone.

    Did I give that position my all anyway? You bet.

    Like the imperfect first draft of an essay, your first job (or jobs) may not be particularly exciting. But you keep working hard, because—like that essay—transforming the wrong job into the right one is always easier than jumping into your perfect career at the start.

    Activity # 3 - Make Friends in High Places

    Opportunities aren’t scarce. Check out LinkedIn. They’re everywhere! But if that’s true, why do good opportunities seem so hard to find?

    Because no one knows who you are.

    As much as it sucks, the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who” is surprisingly on the nose.

    My very first job was at a Chick-fil-A in Texas where my sister (who already worked there) put in a good word for me. When my family moved to Florida unexpectedly, I needed a new job. Guess who hired me? Another Chick-fil-A.

    When I applied for the Admissions Representative role at Accelerated Pathways, being a student in the program (and also knowing an employee) gave me a connection that set me apart from other applicants.

    Don’t underestimate the people who are willing to stick their neck out for you. Invest well, and they’ll pave the way when your time comes. (Of course, this doesn’t mean you can stop working on your skills! Your connections can get you an interview, but your skills get you the job.)

    Activity # 4 - Prepare to Jump

    “What if I’m not ready?”

    I didn’t think I was ready to become a “real writer” when the chance came. Handing my work to an editor for the first time was like buckling up for my driver’s test, just praying I would remember how to parallel park.

    No, I didn’t do it perfectly. It took another two revisions before my original draft was brought up to snuff. But I did it.

    You might not land gently (or even on your feet), but if you’re serious about changing your situation—be it landing your dream job or tackling another opportunity—you have to jump when the opportunity comes.

    Are you “stuck” in a waiting room? Good! This is your personal training ground. Use it. Build a skill, work a job, network...

    ...And get ready to jump.

     

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

  • How Many Credits Do I Need for a Bachelor's Degree?

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    how-many-credits-do-i-need-for-a-bachelors-degree

    The college system can be endlessly confusing. Whether attempting a transfer or simply trying to decide how many classes to take this semester, one of the most common questions we get from students is:

    How many credits do I need for a bachelor’s degree?

    The simple answer: you must complete 120 college credits to earn a bachelor’s degree. That’s about 40 classes, which most people assume you can complete in 4 years.

    But it’s more complicated than that.

    You can’t just register for 40 random courses and expect to walk away with a bachelor’s degree. The kinds of credit you take is very important. That’s what enables you to actually qualify for graduation. And that’s what we’ll be talking about in this post.

    Let’s start with the basics.

    What are college credits?

    College credit is the standard measurement of a student’s academic competency. Essentially, it represents how much effort you, the student, put into a single course over a semester (15 weeks). This effort is most often represented by hours of work.

    1 college credit represents approximately 1 hour spent in a classroom and 2 hours spent on homework each week.

    Most single-semester college courses are worth 3 credits, or 9 hours of work per week.

    If you’re hoping to graduate in 4 years, you’ll need to average 15 credits (roughly 5 courses) a semester. By this estimate, that’s 45 hours of work per week!

    What kinds of courses will get me a bachelor’s degree?

    As I mentioned before, you can’t just sign up for whatever course tickles your fancy and expect it to fit into your degree. A bachelor’s degree is a highly-structured form of study. Most colleges want to ensure their students have a good foundation in the liberal arts (your basic math, history, science, and writing courses) while also digging deeply into whatever major you’ve chosen to study. That adds up to a fairly specific arrangement of courses in order to qualify for graduation.

    Almost any college you choose will split your bachelor’s degree into 3 basic sections:

    1. General Education Requirements

    To encourage a broad education, your college will require you to take up to 60 credits of low-level courses spanning a variety of general subjects. While you get to choose which choose which specific courses you take, you must pick from within your college’s requirements.

    Here’s an example of what you might find in this section:

    In this example, your college requires 6 history credits, but they don’t particularly care which particular history course you study. You can study Western Civilization, American History, or History of the Vietnam War. As long as you complete 6 history credits, you’ve fulfilled the requirement.

    One way to lower the cost of your degree overall is to take many of your general education courses through a program like Accelerated Pathways. We create custom degree plans that will allow you to take many of your general education courses online (at an average of 36% less than regular college courses) and have those credits transfer to the degree and college of your choice. If you want to learn more, reach out to the Accelerated Pathways team.

    2. Free Electives

    This may be the most fun section of your degree (and may be the reason so many people get the idea that a bachelor’s degree is a highly customizable type of education). In this section, your college will allow you to complete up to 30 credits of any course you want.

    The free electives you choose may have nothing to do with your major, and that’s fine! You can choose from the college’s myriad of available courses, choosing up to 10 that truly are whatever you want to learn. This is a great way to give you, the student, that bit of freedom to try new things, think divergently, and not get too pigeon-holed in whatever major you chose.

    3. Area of Study

    This final selection of credits will consist of the specific courses required by your major. Generally, many of these courses will be upper-level courses (meaning they’re more specific, more intense, and more time-consuming than the rest of your bachelor’s degree).

    For example, if you were pursuing a degree in psychology, your area of study requirements may look like this:

    You’ll notice this example includes a 6-credit requirement for “psychology electives.” These electives work very similarly to your free electives. In this case, you may choose two courses (6 credits) from a pre-approved selection of psychology-related courses. This gives you a small way to tailor your degree to your particular interest or goals within the field of psychology. (You’ll also likely have fewer free electives as a result.)

    Why should I care how my bachelor’s degree is structured?

    If you’re planning to let an over-worked and underpaid college advisor hand you a pre-made plan which tells you exactly what to do, what to take, and how much money to waste by going to college the traditional way, then you really don’t need to know how your bachelor’s degree is structured. Go ahead and sign up and complete your courses. You will walk away with a decent education, but you’ll just have spent a lot more time and money getting it than you otherwise could have.

    If, on the other hand, you’re interested in outsmarting the college system (what we do every day here at Pearson), then understanding how your degree is structured is absolutely invaluable.

    Why? Because one of the best ways to save money on college is by transferring credit. There’s a myriad of ways to earn college credit that will save you thousands of dollars on your degree. Community college, CLEPDSST, and affordable online courses are just a few examples. Trust me, if you want to save money on college, the best thing you can do is understand what exactly you need to graduate and find a way to earn that credit somewhere else. Then, once you’ve earned as much credit outside of your chosen college as possible, transfer it all in to complete the degree.

    Doing college this way may sound a little unorthodox, and it is. But trust me. We’ve helped thousands of students graduate debt free using this simple method. It works.

    But even if you’re not trying to hack the college system or save money on your degree, if you’re simply considering switching colleges (for any reason), understanding how degrees are structured will help you avoid wasting time and money on college credit that overlaps or doesn’t transfer at all.

    Want to learn more? Click here to learn about how Accelerated Pathways can help you hack the college system to save thousands on your degree.

     

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

  • How Does Financial Aid Work?

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    How Does Financial Aid Work?

    This blog post was originally published in January 2018. It has since been updated to provide the most current and relevent information.

    Last week, I thought financial aid was akin to black magic. All I knew for sure was it “helps students pay for college.” I wasn’t sure how or even who qualified for it, and I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one living in ignorance.

    So, I called an expert.

    Rebecca Decker is an admissions counselor for Pearson Accelerated Pathways and has been using her expertise to help hundreds of college students make good financial decisions for the past seven years (not to mention the four years she spent learning about and managing her own financial aid in college).

    After an hour-and-a-half-long conversation with Rebecca, breaking down what financial aid is and how it works, I learned this government-sponsored financial program definitely isn’t black magic…but it isn’t exactly a fairy godmother either.

    What is Financial Aid?

    Most students don’t have the ability to pay for college out of pocket. Considering tuition, books, room and board, and other related fees, the cost can be substantial. Not surprisingly, most students need to research financial aid options.

    Financial aid consists of a variety of components that help students pay for college, such as scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. Although some types of aid do not need to be paid back, others do.

    It wasn’t until I talked to Rebecca that I learned that financial aid does not always equate to “free money.”

    “It’s absolutely possible to qualify for grants, which are essentially free money,” Rebecca said, “but most of the time, accepting financial aid means taking out federal loans.”

    I suddenly felt ripped off. No one—NO ONE—ever told me that financial aid meant student loans. Having been raised to live debt free myself, the idea that student debt may be masquerading under a friendlier title didn’t sit well with me.

    “If financial aid is just a loan,” I asked, “how is it any better than getting a private loan to pay for college?”

    Turns out, there are a few differences between a federal student loan and a private loan:

    • Most federal loans don’t require a credit check.

    • Federal loans often have low, fixed interest rates, which vary based on the first disbursement date of the loan. The interest rate for Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans for undergraduate borrowers first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020, and before July 1, 2021, is 2.75% (A private loan could easily exceed 18%.)

    • Federal loans are tax-deductible.

    • Federal loans can also be deferred—most commonly, students will defer their loans for up to 6 months after they graduate (allowing time to get a job).

    • Lastly, federal loans are eligible for loan forgiveness in some special cases.

    While this list may make federal student loans look nicer than what Mr. Local Banker Man would has to offer, it should be noted that student loans are still debt. Taking out a student loan means spending money you don’t have and that you will have to pay back... with interest.

    Taking out a multi-thousand dollar loan at 18, with no career or even the guarantee of a good job once you graduate? That’s a financial gamble. For better or worse, it will impact your life long after college.

    Given that, let’s talk about the different kinds of federal student loans you could apply for and the impact they can have on your financial future.

    What is FAFSA?

    The first step toward applying for financial aid involves filling out an application.

    The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA) is exactly what it sounds like—your financial aid application. Completing this form is the only way to learn what kind of federal aid you qualify for. The purpose of the FAFSA is to allow states and colleges to determine which students are eligible to receive financial aid. It also helps them determine how much aid students will get. “The first thing students should know is that completing your FAFSA is not a commitment,” Rebecca said. Applying is not agreeing to accept aid. You’re just finding out how much you qualify for.

    How Does FAFSA Work?

    What kind of aid you qualify for is based almost solely on your tax information (for minors, that means your parents’ tax information). This is the broad measuring stick the government uses to determine your eligibility for various levels of financial aid. The more you make, the less aid you qualify for, essentially. While your state, school choice, and a few other elements (e.g., how many courses you’re planning to take) are factored in this decision, they’re all secondary to your yearly taxes.

    It should also be noted that if you or your family’s financial situation has changed significantly from what’s reflected on your (or your parents’) most recent tax return, you may be eligible to have your financial aid package adjusted.

    Types of Student Loans

    Student loans fall into one of two categories: federal and private. There are two key differences between federal and private loans. The first is that federal loans have lower interest rates. The second is that federal loan repayment programs offer greater flexibility.

    Direct Loans: Subsidized and Unsubsidized

    Both subsidized and unsubsidized loans are granted at the beginning of a semester, and neither is required to be paid back until after you graduate (or otherwise disenroll from your school). No matter which year the loan covers, once you’re out of school, your payments begin.

    The big difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans is when you start paying interest.

    An unsubsidized loan gains interest just like a private loan would: starting the day you take it out. The don’t-pay-until-you-graduate grace period only applies for your loan payments. Interest payments are still required throughout your time in school.

    However, if you take out a subsidized loan, the government pays interest for you while you’re in school. Your personal interest payments will begin only after you graduate, along with the rest of your loan payments.

    If you’re going to take out a federal student loan, Rebecca recommends pursuing a subsidized one.

    “I remember the difference by saying ‘unsubsidized is uncool,’” Rebecca said. “Paying off the interest on an unsubsidized loan can be very stressful for students, especially if they aren’t earning much on the side while they’re in school.”

    Plus, she mentioned, if you are earning an income while in school, you would be better served by putting that money toward paying for your next semester upfront and skipping the loans altogether rather than paying down a growing debt.

    The fewer loans you take out, the less interest you pay. The less interest you pay, the cheaper college will be.

    If you decide to walk the precarious loan path and don’t qualify for subsidized and unsubsidized loans, or if you have taken out as much as you can but still need extra money to cover your final college costs, there is a third type of federal loan to pursue. But in Rebecca’s opinion, it’s a very poor choice and should be avoided at all costs.

    Direct PLUS Loans

    Direct PLUS Loans work a little differently than both subsidized and unsubsidized loans:

    • First, PLUS loans require a credit check. So if you don’t have credit, your parents must act as co-signers. This means if you fail to pay it back, the loan burden will default to your parents.

    • Second, at 5.3%, the interest rate for PLUS loans is higher than that of a subsidized or unsubsidized loan.

    • Third, not only do PLUS loans gain interest from the day they’re borrowed, just like an unsubsidized loan, but you’re also required to pay an extra fee on top. Currently, the loan fee is equal to a little over 4% of the amount you borrow.

    Bottom line: this loan is available, but it’s expensive—and possibly harmful to not just you but also your parents.

    “When I was applying for school, my parents wouldn’t co-sign this loan for me simply on principle,” Rebecca said. Her family was one of the many who decided the potential dangers of applying for this type of loan outweighed the benefits of college. That’s serious.

    Other Types of Financial Aid

    Students should also know that they may qualify for a variety of “free” financial aid options, such as grants and scholarships.

    Grants

    While the loan portion of financial aid is what most students qualify for, there is a happier side to the process. By completing a FAFSA, you may also qualify for grants.

    A grant is a free gift of money that the recipient is not required to pay back except under certain conditions (like if you disenroll early or make a similar change that alters your eligibility). These grants are what every student thinks of when they imagine financial aid, and it’s every bit as good as it sounds.

    If you qualify for a grant, we recommend you take it before considering any of the student debt options we mentioned above.

    The Federal Pell Grant

    “Think of the Federal Pell Grant as a collective pool of money set aside by the government to help students pay for college. Each year, this money is distributed among applicants based on their need.”

    For the 2020-21 school year, the maximum amount a student could receive from the Pell Grant was $6,345 per year. That’s a fair chunk, especially for students pursuing community college or another low-cost option. Of course, how much of this money you actually receive depends on your financial need, the cost of your school, whether you’re attending part or full time, and how many semesters you’re paying for.

    Your “financial need” is the biggest consideration here. This is determined based on your most recent (or your parents’ most recent) tax return. And, unfortunately, there’s a large swath of individuals who fall into the camp of making too much to qualify for the Pell Grant while not actually making enough to actually pay for college. Curious if you’re eligible for Pell? The U.S. Department of Education provides a handy tool for estimating how much aid you’ll qualify for.

    State Grants

    Rebecca wanted to go into detail about state grants as well—and what kind of money you may or may not qualify for according to your state. Unfortunately, state grants aren’t standardized, which means the information would be far too complicated and technical to relate in this post.

    But it’s worth noting that if your state does have a grant to offer, you’ll find out by filling out a FAFSA. You can also contact your state grant agency to ask about possible grants.

    School Grants and Scholarships

    Like with state grants, this is another type of grant that isn’t standardized but is available by completing a FAFSA. However, you’ll need to apply to the school in question to gain access to the information.

    If you’re accepted to the university in question, it’ll put together a financial aid award letter based on your FAFSA. You’ll receive this letter along with your notification of acceptance to the school. If you qualify for any of the school’s grants or scholarships, this letter will tell you.

    Of course, you can also contact the school directly to ask about possible scholarships or grants you may qualify for. You might be able to find out about scholarships offered for specific majors.

    Learn More About How to Pay for College

    My conversation with Rebecca was more helpful than I could have hoped for, but it left me perturbed. When grant money is so difficult to come by and loans are so easy, it can be tempting to assume student loans are the best way to pay for college.

    But that’s just not true.

    At Accelerated Pathways, we believe college shouldn’t be a debt sentence. We help students avoid the need for student loans altogether by lowering their college costs through the use of affordable online courses. I’d encourage you to make a smart financial decision and avoid federal student loans. Learn more about how Accelerated Pathways can help you save money on your education and graduate debt free.

    Special thanks to Rebecca Decker, one of our amazing admissions counselors, for taking the time to chat with me about this topic.

    What to read next? Here are some ideas:

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

  • 68 Ways to Save Money in College

    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY

    68 Ways to Save Money in College

    College is expensive. Too expensive. Student loan problem, debt crisis, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing random strangers on the internet rattle on without end about the overwhelming cost of college.

    To be honest, I’m a little tired of writing about it too. So today, I’m switching gears.

    Here are 68 nuggets of financial wisdom you can put to use immediately. Each will help you think twice and spend your dollars more wisely when it comes time to walk the hallowed halls.

    Save money in college by: being smart about college.

    1. Don’t go.

    Not every career requires a 4-year degree. Is your dream job one of them?

    2. If you do go, go in-state.

    Staying put could save you nearly $12,000, annually.

    3. Better yet, go online.

    No infrastructure, less staff to pay, no sports to fund, etc.

    4. At least don’t go in California.

    Too many students, not enough seats. It’s causing some problems.

    5. Pick a public university over a private one.

    $26,000 (per year). Saved.

    6. Pick a lesser-known school.

    Reputations are expensive. Do you really want to pay for one?

    7. Take more than 4 years to graduate.

    Take online courses while you work a full-time job. Transfer them in later.

    8. Take less than 4 years to graduate.

    Taking 5 or 6 years on campus to graduate could mean over $40,000 extra.

    9. Don’t get more school than you need.

    Graduate programs are expensive. Don’t go unless you actually need it.

    10. Take affordable transfer credit.

    CLEP tests, DSSTs, and affordable online courses will help you save money and speed up your degree.

    11. But don’t lose your transfer credit.

    Every credit you re-take is a credit you re-pay for.

    12. Don’t fail classes.

    Number 11 applies to re-taking failed classes too.

    13. Don’t switch majors.

    Switching majors can lead to lost credit. Remember # 11?

    14. Take a gap year… to avoid switching majors.

    No one will judge you for taking a little extra time to ensure you’re making a wise decision.

    15. Don’t pick an expensive major either.

    Art supplies, musical instruments, special facility fees, lab equipment… it all adds up.

    16. Take advantage of grants, if you can.

    Free money! 🙌

    17. Take advantage of scholarships, if you can.

    Free money! 👏

    18. DO NOT GET A STUDENT LOAN.

    NOT free money. 😱😠😭

    Student loans are a great way to pay thousands of extra dollars for every year the loan isn’t paid off. (Hello, interest rates!)

    19. At least don’t take out more loans than you need…

    The less you can borrow, the less debt you incur. The less debt, the better.

    20. If you do community college, make sure it has a feeder program.

    Community college can save you a ton of money unless your university won’t accept that community college transfer credit. Which it probably won’t.

    21. Or just use Accelerated Pathways.

    The best way to earn affordable credit with a 100% guarantee it’ll transfer to your school.

    Save money in college by: being smart about money management.

    22. Make a budget.

    This is adulting 101.

    23. Stick to your budget.

    This is adulting 102.

    24. Pay your bills on time.

    Late fees are the gut-punches of wasted money.

    25. Take Dave Ramsey’s money course.

    Why not learn from the best (and earn some college credit at the same time)?

    And by: being smart about how you spend time.

    26. Get a job.

    Any job.

    27. Like at Starbucks.

    They’ve got great tuition assistance.

    28. Or UPS.

    Medical and tuition assistance for part-time evening work? Sold.

    29. Or anywhere else that has tuition assistance.

    These 33 companies will help you pay for college.

    30. Invent Facebook.

    It worked for Zuckerburg!

    31. Get a side hustle.

    For everyone who thinks they’re Zuckerburg.

    32. Enlist in the military.

    For those nobler than Zuckerburg.

    33. Or maybe just intern somewhere.

    For everyone else. (We can’t all be Zuckerburgs.)

    Save money in college by: being smart about how you eat.

    34. Opt out of meal plans.

    College meal plan: $4,400.

    Cooking at home: $1,760.*

    35. Don’t eat out.

    Eating out: $12.75 per meal.

    Cooking at home: $2.50 per meal.**

    36. Definitely don’t drink out.

    One glass of wine at your local bar is approximately the same cost of that same bottle of wine at the grocery store.

    37. Maybe just don’t drink.

    Water, soda, and juice are all far cheaper and just as tasty.

    38. That includes coffee.

    Starbucks coffee: $2.10. (Grande sized, featuring their signature “burnt ashes” flavor.)

    39. Okay fine, just make your coffee at home.

    Average at-home brew: $0.60. (And 150% tastier.)

    40. And while you’re at it, make yourself some food.

    Let me redirect you to points 34 and 35.

    41. Or shamelessly mooch off your more generous friends and family.

    Some people love to cook, some people love to eat. These types of people should be friends.

    42. If you can’t mooch, at least meal plan and use a shopping list.

    There’s a special place in hell for food wasters.

    43. While you’re at it, use coupons and cashback apps.

    iBotta, RetailMeNot, Groupon, Living Social, Ebates… find coupons, find deals, and earn money for regularly purchased items.

    44. Freeze food before it goes bad.

    Meat, bread, taco shells—anything you can’t eat fast enough should go in the freezer. You know how I feel about food wasting.

    Save money in college by: being smart about how you play.

    45. Don’t have fun.

    Movie tickets, mini golf, bowling, these things cost money you don’t have to spend.

    46. If you do have fun, make it reusable.

    Movies tickets are used once. Board games are used endlessly.

    47. Better yet, make it free (thanks to your local library!)

    Bonus points if you borrow books.

    48. Get outside.

    State parks, apartment pools, window shopping downtown. There are a lot of free ways to have fun.

    49. Or just borrow your friend’s Switch!

    49.5. Make friends with less frugal people.

    And by: being smart about how you live.

    50. Get roommates.

    Splitting bills 2, 3, or 5 ways makes a big difference.

    51. Or live with your parents.

    Free rent! 🙌

    52. Share a phone plan.

    Family plans exist for a reason.

    53. Workout at home.

    You’ll never use that gym membership anyway.

    54. Don’t travel.

    Staying put may sound boring, but it has its perks.

    55. If you do travel, fly Southwest!

    Planning ahead can lead to ridiculously cheap flights. And your bags fly free!

    56. Don’t own a car.

    Switching to biking can save you 15% or more on car insurance. And gas. And maintenance. And it’s probably more than 15%.

    57. Don’t get contacts.

    Glasses save you hundreds per year.

    58. Don’t get a pet.

    Pet food, vet bills, extra rent…

    59. Don’t get internet.

    The library and Starbucks are two perfectly acceptable places to do homework.

    60. Don’t get a printer.

    Trust me. This is good life advice in general.

    61. Don’t get anything new.

    Thrift stores. Goodwill. Done.

    62. Use Facebook Marketplace to buy perfectly good stuff that extravagant average Americans literally don't have room for any more.

    It's nice to feed on the dying flesh of the bourgeois.

    63. Win Wheel of Fortune.

    Your grandmother will be so proud!

    64. Date someone rich.

    And have them pay for dinner!

    65. Shop at Aldi’s.

    Just don’t tell your rich S.O.

    66. Lose some weight.

    Smaller bodies require less food!

    67. Lose so much weight that your aunt takes pity on your and lets you live with her so she can “fatten you up.”

    Thanks, Aunty!

    Save money in college by: being smart.

    68. Don’t be stupid.

    Don’t pay for anything you don’t need. The traditional “college experience” is a luxury, not a necessity. You can earn your degree without drowning in debt, but you’ll have to make some sacrifices along the way.

    Obviously, you know your specific financial situation better than I (or anyone else offering generic advice) ever could. So listen to your gut and don’t spend money you don’t have.

    *This number was calculated by taking the average cost of single males and females ages 19-50, using the USDA’s "low-cost" food plan for 8 months—roughly the amount of time a student will spend on campus each year. (# 34)

    **This number was calculated by taking the same USDA average grocery budget and dividing it by 90 meals per month (3 meals per day). Fun fact: after an intense month of receipt tracking and cooking at home, this is almost exactly what each of my home-cooked meals ended up costing me. I halved my food bill that month. 😎(# 35)

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    ABIGAIL ENDSLEY