How to Pay for College as an Engineering Student

In 2019, over 200,000 engineering degrees were awarded to graduating students. Whether you’re interested in becoming a civil engineer, a mechanical engineer, or even an engineering manager, you’ll need to start with an engineering degree. 

Selecting the right college or university for you isn’t just about choosing a school that has a great engineering program, as you have to consider the cost as well. Going to college is expensive, and if you’re not sure how you’re going to pay for it, you may be feeling like it isn’t even a possibility for you.

Luckily, however, you have options as a future engineering student! There are ways to pay for school that you may not have thought of before.

Keep reading below to get an in-depth review of the different ways that an engineering student can pay for college. 

Complete the FAFSA

Even if you’re not sure whether or not you’ll qualify for any aid, there is no harm in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You might find that you are eligible for funds you didn’t know about, and since it is free and easy to complete, there is no reason not to try.

The FAFSA is the best way to find financial aid opportunities, as it puts you into the running for federal grants, student loans, state or school-based aid, and more. 

To complete the FAFSA, you’ll need to have:

  • Your SSN (or Alien Registration Number)
  • Federal income tax returns, W2s, and other money records
  • Bank statements
  • An FSA ID (for electronic sign-in)

You will also need the above information for your parents if you are a dependent student. It may help to have them in the room with you when completing the FAFSA if they will help pay for part (or all) of your schooling. 

The deadline for this application is between June and October, but be sure to keep track of the FAFSA website before you plan to apply.

Research Scholarship Options

It’s a good idea to start searching for scholarships before your senior year. Some scholarships require a certain amount of time or experience for eligibility, so you need to know how you can plan for these things now in order to qualify when it’s time to go to college. 

You may be able to find specific engineering scholarship opportunities that you didn’t know about, but be sure to look at more generalized scholarships as well. Consider what will end up saving you the most money in the long run, and remember that since scholarships don’t have to be paid back, you can use as many as you’d like.

If you’re a woman looking into a college program, for example, you can click here for more information on scholarships only women are eligible for. There are also scholarships for people that are left-handed, people who have been golf caddies, and other niche areas that only a select few can benefit from.

In general, there are thousands of scholarships out there, and some of them are more choosy than others, so be sure to set aside a good amount of time to narrow down your selection.

Choose a Cost-Effective School

When you’re on your way toward getting an engineering degree, it may be tempting to go to high-cost schools that are more prestigious or well-known. However, if one of your main concerns is how you’re going to pay for college, you are likely better off looking at more reasonably priced schools.

It may be best to start at a technical school or a community college to offset some of the college costs. In your first year especially, you’ll be taking a lot of general education courses that you can complete almost anywhere. If you choose to transfer later on to a school that specializes in engineering, you can still get the well-rounded education you’re looking for.

Also, you have to keep in mind the general costs, which include how much aid you’ll get. Just because a $60,000 per year school seems more expensive than a $30,000 per year school, if that first school offers you $45,000 in aid, it’s actually cheaper overall. 

See if You Qualify for Grants

There are literally billions of dollars left behind by students that don’t complete the FAFSA and claim federal Pell Grant money. As long as you submit the FAFSA and renew it every year that you’re in school, you’ll be able to receive any Pell money that you might be eligible for. This will help you save big when it comes to school costs, so it’s important to not miss these deadlines. 

The federal government offers other types of grants as well, and you won’t have to pay these back. A lot of states have their own grant programs to help students also, so you’ll have some options to choose from depending on where you live. 

You can use the map on the Department of Education’s website to look at the agencies within your state that have college and university grants. There, you will be able to look up and send your application in for state grant programs. 

Consider a Work-Study Job

When you get a job in college, you can provide yourself with an income, get experience working as a professional, and gain valuable networking connections with others. A federal work-study program is a great way to do all of these things but also get financial aid as a result. 

To apply for a work-study program, you need to complete the FAFSA. On the FAFSA, you’ll want to check for “work-study” listed on the financial aid award. 

You will have to find an eligible work-study job on your campus and make sure to work the right amount of hours to qualify for the aid in order to get the money. 

Generally, the program will encourage community service-type work, but it also wants you to find work in your related course of study. You might be able to find a job in the work-study program that will help you as an engineer once you finish your degree, so it is of real benefit to you to take advantage of this program. 

Look at Loans You Have Available

While student loan debt is a real problem in our country today, the reality is that many students are still required to take out loans in order to pay for schooling. 

If you want to consider taking out loans, look at federal loans first. It’s best to aim for student loan payments that won’t exceed about 10% of what you plan to make after taxes per month in your first year or two after school. Federal loans have a lot of benefits that private loans won’t, like loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment plans, so always look at these first.

Private loans are also an option if you need them, but don’t just choose the first lender you find. You need to compare all of the options available to you to find the lowest interest rate and best borrower protections. 

After you graduate, you have to pay back the loans you take out, so don’t think of this as “free” money. You’re likely going to have to pay back interest on these loans as well, so it’s crucial to take these loans out with your future in mind. 

Find Out if Your Parents Have a 529 College Savings Plan

529 savings plans are a great option for students that will have parent support when paying for school. They offer an opportunity for families to grow their savings without taxes, but the money has to be spent on educational expenses. 

While there are state plans available, your parents are not just limited to those options. There are actually a lot of plans out there, and to choose the best one, your parents would need to consider:

  • What year college starts
  • Current savings balance
  • The yearly cost of college
  • Rate of return on money saved
  • Expected inflation rates of tuition

Talk to your parents about this option well in advance to see if it would be a feasible option for them, especially if they have already voiced concern regarding how they will help you pay for school. Starting this as early as possible is the best way to get the most savings out of it to cover school costs.

Consider Using Your Own Savings

If you’re an older student, you may already have had part of a career that led to your own savings. Even if you’re just out of high school, you still may have earned money from an after-school job that you set aside specifically for college expenses.

This might not cover everything, but it can be a great way to get initial costs out of the way. 

You may also have a current income that you can use toward schooling. Remember that the best way to avoid debts in the future is to use the money you have now instead of taking out loans, so even if it isn’t ideal to spend the money you currently have instead of saving it, this may be a necessary expense.

You can spend time working while in school, on summer break, or on holiday breaks as well. Take advantage of any downtime you might have to avoid having to take on large debts from your schooling. 

Look at Fellowships or Assistantships

While all of these things will apply to undergraduate schooling, this one is more specific for individuals that are planning to attend graduate school for an advanced engineering degree.

A fellowship, in this case, is a great way to get extra funding because it is granted to students based on merit. The idea is that the student is able to focus on excelling in their studies instead of worrying about paying for school because they are such a good student. Fellowships don’t have to be paid back, and they look really good to future employers on a resume or CV. 

You’ll have to apply for a fellowship to see if you can get one. It’s a good idea to speak with your school’s advisor or educational counselor about how to do this and which ones you may be most successful with before you start applying. 

A graduate assistantship is a type of employment with the school to perform teaching or research in exchange for stipends, tuition waivers, and more. Depending on your school, the benefits of taking on an assistantship are going to vary slightly, but they do help pay for some of the costs of school (or at least offset them). 

Become an Engineering Student by Covering College Expenses

If you’re dreaming of becoming an engineering student, you first have to think about where you’re going to go to school and how you’re going to pay for it. Before you apply for school, you need to look at all payment options to see what you qualify for and what makes the most sense for your unique situation.

Whether you’ve had a career before going back to school or you’re going to college right after high school, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Look at scholarships and grants first before you start to take out loans. Talk with your parents about if they plan to help you pay for school or not as well, and don’t forget to fill out the FAFSA well before the deadline. 

Did you like this article? If so, be sure to take a look at the rest of our website for other tips like these! 

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