Students look to alternatives to cut costs

Nathalie Tadena and Nathalie Tadena

While many students worry about heavy workloads, busy schedules and landing a job after graduation, another college headache exacerbated by the ‘Great Recession’ is paying the tuition bill.This school year, Northwestern’s tuition costs $38,088 – an increase of 3.6 percent from the previous year. Though this was the lowest tuition percent increase at NU in more than 40 years and financial aid for students rose by 10 percent, many families are looking for alternative ways to help defray the cost of higher education. “The current economic environment has required both students and parents to pay more attention to how college costs are added up,” said Deborah Fox, author of the Pay for College blog and founder of Fox College Funding, which helps college families who don’t qualify for financial aid. However, since many schools do not provide cost-cutting advice for families beyond how to take out loans and apply for financial aid, students have to be “very proactive in identifying other cost-cutting strategies,” she said.Weinberg junior Nicole Collins became a community assistant last year to cover her room and board costs. Though she said the job “definitely helps (finances) in the long run,” she didn’t receive ample money to put toward other expenses like textbooks.”My parents definitely pressured me to take a year off to work, but I didn’t want to wait,” Collins said. “I figured the most I could make is $50,000 and that only pays for a year of college. I just wanted to go right to school.”Taking a gap year is not common among NU students. Only about 30 incoming students choose to defer enrollment for a year, said Christopher Watson, the dean of undergraduate admissions. Matriculating students must seek approval from the admissions office to defer, Watson said. He added that no accepted students this year opted for a year off to work.”Some of our Northwestern students worked hard in high school and will work very hard for four more years,” Watson said. “We don’t discourage them (from taking a gap year). I have not turned down a request for a gap year unless it was to study at another university.” Oakland, Calif., native Isabel Rodriguez-Vega was accepted to NU this year but decided to defer her enrollment for a year. “I’ll probably be better prepared for college,” said Rodriguez-Vega, who will be a member of Weinberg’s class of 2014. “After this, (college) won’t be my first time away from home, and maybe I’ll have a better understanding of what I’ll want to study.” Though she decided to take a gap year to participate in a cultural immersion program at the University of Salamanca in Spain ­- not to work at a job – finances were also a concern. “I applied to a few outside scholarships, and I wasn’t sure if they’d be okay with me taking a gap year since I wouldn’t use the money until next year,” Rodriguez-Vega , adding that her relatives in Spain will pay for her year abroad. “I talked to some of the financial aid officers, and they said as long as my mom’s income doesn’t change dramatically, my financial aid package should be the same.” Rodriguez-Vega said she “definitely wouldn’t be able to afford to go” to NU without the generous financial aid package she received.Instead of finding a job, a more common option for cash-strapped students is to complete the first two years of college at a community college or a public university and then transfer to a private school, Fox said.Other techniques can help cut costs during the school year. Students can also utilize book-rental companies or order books from Amazon and other online sites to lessen the financial burden from the cost of textbooks, which average about $900 a year, she added. NU promises to meet the full demonstrated financial need for aid applicants, according to the undergraduate office of financial aid’s Web site. Last year, the university announced that $86 million would be available in scholarship funds for undergraduates. “We have asked all areas of the university to cut operating expenses in the coming year and we have delayed several major capital projects as a cost-saving measure in order to continue Northwestern’s historic commitments to need-blind admissions and meeting the full financial need of our students,” then-President Henry Bienen said in a statement last year.One of the most significant ways to cut back costs is for students to plan personal expenses ahead of time. Fox said she also encourages students to look for paid internships during the summer or school year for additional income, find “entertainment books” that provide discounts on activities in the area around the student’s school, apply for private scholarships and set a budget to stick by. “To pay the lowest price overall, it’s not just one thing you have to do, it’s a number of things,” she said. But many NU students believe that a private education is important in the long run.”At all private colleges, it’s especially hard to pay for it if you’re neither very rich or if your parents have just moderate working wages,” Collins said. “If you’re middle class, you have to ask whether it was worth $200,000 out of pocket, but I decided that it was.”[email protected]’s note: Nicole Collins is a cartoonist for The Daily.