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Parents want the best for their children, but that doesn't always mean picking up the tab for college. Some parents aren't in a position to afford the cost and others may feel it's their child's responsibility to finance their own education. Either way, needing to pay your way through college doesn't have to mean drowning in debt. Here are six things to think about if you have to pay for your own college degree.

1. Ask Your Parents Early

By your junior year, start the discussion with your parents if they are able or willing to contribute financially to your education. If they say yes, you need to know how much they're willing to offer, either in a dollar amount or percentage of the total cost. Even though this conversation may feel uncomfortable, it's important to know how much support they can provide. The earlier you have this conversation, the better, because it will give you more time to figure out how to afford college.

2. Consider Community or In-State College

Students who spend their first two years at a community college - especially while living at home - and then transfer to a four-year program can save thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars.

If community college is not for you, the kind of university you attend makes a big difference for your bill. In-state colleges are significantly cheaper than their private and out-of-state counterparts. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition at an in-state community college in 2020-2021 is $3,770 while tuition at public in-state four-year programs is $10,560 and private four-year schools is $37,650.

3. Apply for All Eligible Scholarships

Scholarships can be based on a variety of factors, including academic performance, special interests, unique backgrounds or a particular skill set. Sometimes the funds will cover the costs of your tuition bill, but may not be applied to books, supplies or living expenses. Other times you may get a one-time cash award to put toward any education expense.

The key is to keep applying for scholarships throughout your college career, not just as an incoming freshman. Check with local clubs and organizations in your community, your university's website and the Discover Student Loans free scholarship search tool for any relevant scholarships.

4. Join the Military

Most branches of the military, including the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the National Guard, offer education benefits. Those include covering the full cost of tuition, loan repayment assistance and the post 9/11 GI Bill, which covers tuition and $1,000 per year for books and supplies to those who served at least 90 days active duty since September 11, 2001. If a branch of the military is of interest to you, it may be worthwhile to investigate this option further to help with college funding.

5. Work Before and During College

Part-or full-time jobs can help subsidize any deficits left to cover college expenses, such as lifestyle and housing costs. Taking a gap year before attending college can also help position you to minimize debt. Rather than backpacking through Asia, some people use the time to work and save for college.

6. Take Out Student Loans

If there is still a gap in funding after all other options are explored, you may need to take out student loans. Before you take out a student loan, make sure you do your research and compare loan types, such as federal and private, loan terms, features, interest rates and repayment options.

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If you are still weighing your college options or need to compare college costs, you can test out various college planning scenarios with My College Plan.

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