Investopedia defines personal financial literacy as "the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing.” The ability to understand financial concepts, apply financial management skills and to combine financial knowledge and skills to be able to make sound financial decisions, allows you to make sound decisions about your money, plan for the future, prepare for monetary emergencies, and potentially decrease stress and anxiety.

There are four main areas that have been identified as areas of concern for most college students:

  1. The true cost of college
  2. Ways to pay for college
  3. Federal student aid
  4. Budgeting, planning and saving

The True Cost of College

While it is true that grants and scholarships are helpful resources for tuition fees, there are many other expenses that a student may not be taking into consideration while they are in school.

Living Expenses. This may include rent or mortgage payments, furnishings, utilities, insurance and more. These costs may vary, especially if your living arrangements change once school starts.

Food. What is covered by a school’s meal plan or do they even offer one?

Transportation. How can you get to and from classes, the library, study groups, etc.? Does your college require a parking pass?

Educational materials. Textbooks, graphing calculators, trade specific equipment (such as stethoscopes for medical studies or art supplies for graphic design studies), and everyday supplies like pens, paper and highlighters.

Technology expenses. Does your curriculum require a laptop or new software?

Membership fees and dues. Campus clubs, student groups and other activities are worthwhile ways to meet people and network, but they can have additional costs associated with them.

Graduation fees. Do you need to pay a fee for your degree conferral, the graduation ceremony, cap and gown, etc.?

Post college costs. Are there additional expenses you will take on after college such as interest accrual on loans, a loss of student discounts for insurance and memberships, or costs associated with a search for a career in your new degree?

Ways to Pay for College

Grants and Scholarships. Many families qualify for a federal Pell Grant, or state and local grants. To see if you qualify, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at StudentAid.gov. Scholarships, especially smaller ones, are plentiful, and many students are awarded multiple scholarships. Be sure you understand the eligibility criteria for the grant or scholarship to avoid losing it or having to repay funds.

Education Savings Plans (aka 529 Plans). A 529 plan is a state-run education savings plan. There are two basic types of 529 plans: college savings and prepaid tuition. You can invest in almost any state’s plan and do not have to live in or attend college in that same state. Earnings in a 529 plan are tax-deferred, and distributions are not taxed when used for qualifying expenses.

Military or Veteran's Benefits. If you served in the military, you may be eligible to use military tuition assistance. Veterans, spouses and other dependents of military service members are also entitled to a variety of education assistance programs.

Employer Payment or Reimbursement. Some companies and organizations will pay for expenses related to your education, or you may be eligible for employer reimbursement. Each employer has their own guidelines, so make sure you understand the requirements to avoid losing benefits or having to pay funds back to your employer.

Work-Study. Many colleges offer work-study opportunities where you are paid to work at a school related job. This can be ideal for students that live on campus. Although work-study is typically not full-time work, it is still a viable option.

Federal Student Loans. Subsidized federal student loans do not accrue interest until after you graduate. Unsubsidized loans accrue interest before graduation. If possible, only accept the minimum amount of loans you need to meet your educational goals and always accept subsidized loans before taking on an unsubsidized loan.

State Government Loans. State government loans may have a higher interest rate than federal student loans, and the terms and conditions can vary. Be sure you read and understand all the terms and conditions before you accept these loans.

College Loans. College loans may have a higher interest rate than federal student loans, and the terms and conditions can vary. Be sure you read and understand all the terms and conditions before you accept these loans.

Private Loans. Private loans may have a higher interest rate than federal student loans, and the terms and conditions can vary. Be sure you read and understand all the terms and conditions before you accept these loans.

Aid From Special Situations. Aid is available for students in special situations such as Children of Fallen Heroes, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, considerations for students in foster care, AmeriCorps service, at-risk or homeless students, and other special situations. Please contact the Office of Financial Aid if you believe you qualify for any of these situations.

Federal Student Aid - FAQ

Columbia Southern University participates in various state and federal funding programs. Federal student aid offers federal grant and loan programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education. We’ve included answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.

Am I eligible for federal student aid?
You may view the federal student aid eligibility requirements at StudentAid.gov.

How do I fill out the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be completed at StudentAid.gov. You can also complete your FAFSA via the myStudentAid mobile app.

When should I complete my FAFSA?
You must complete your FAFSA prior to your planned enrollment date. The FAFSA may be completed between Oct. 1 and June 30 each year. You will need access to your tax information in order to complete your FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool within the online form is a helpful method for pulling that information.

How much does it cost to complete the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is free and determines your eligibility for both the Pell Grant and student loans. Paying money to a service to complete your FAFSA will not get it done quicker or earn you more money.

What if I don’t want financial aid, just the Pell Grant?
Financial aid consists of both the Pell Grant and student loans. You will need to complete the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for both, and you will have the option to decline student loans.

I need help completing my FAFSA, entrance counseling and/or master promissory note.
Columbia Southern University’s Office of Financial Aid is available to help. You may call 877-316-8396 or email FinancialAid@ColumbiaSouthern.edu. You may also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center helpline at 1-800-433-3243 or live chat after business hours.

What happens after I complete the FAFSA?
Your information will be processed and sent to the colleges indicated on your FAFSA. Each school has its own process, requirements and additional required documentation. It is important to remain aware of deadlines and respond to any requests for information or documentation quickly. Be sure to complete your FAFSA every year and read all correspondence from your school’s financial aid office and from the Department of Education. For more information, watch “After the FAFSA: What Happens Next” at StudentAid.gov.

Where are my financial aid documents?
You may view your documents in your myCSU portal by visiting “My Account” and “Financial Aid.”

Do all these documents require a signature?
Yes, all financial aid documents should be signed. Even though some documents are online fillable, you will need to print them out and physically sign each document with a pen.

I missed the deadline. Now what?
Reach out to Columbia Southern University’s Office of Financial Aid by calling 877-316-8396 or email FinancialAid@ColumbiaSouthern.edu. We will work with you as much as possible to help you get into the term you want.

Does CSU offer stipends for excess financial aid funds?
Yes. If eligible, you may receive a stipend of excess funds after your tuition and other fees are covered. Stipend calendars are available on the CSU website and within your award letter. Generally, any stipend will be sent to you by the midpoint of each term. Specifics about tuition, fees and stipends can be located in your MyCSU portal under the “account” tab.

Do you offer direct deposit?
Yes, CSU offers direct deposit. All direct deposit forms and funds are handled by CSU’s Department of Student Accounts. Direct deposit information is located in your MyCSU portal.

Can you help me with my tuition assistance, VA benefits, scholarship and/or tuition reimbursement from my employer?
For personal assistance with these funding sources, future CSU students should call their admissions representative (877-347-6050). Existing students should contact student accounts (877-323-4472.)

Will dropping or failing a class change my financial aid?
Yes, it can. If you have questions, please contact CSU’s Office of Financial Aid (877-316-8396) or email FinancialAid@ColumbiaSouthern.edu.

How can I use my federal student aid?
Federal student aid can be used to pay for those expenses that are directly related to your college education, including but not limited to:

  • Tuition and fees (including loan fees)
  • Room and board
  • Transportation
  • Childcare expenses
  • Textbooks, supplies, technology expenses

How much should I borrow?
According to StudentAid.gov, the total monthly payment for all debts should not exceed 8% of your gross monthly salary. If you plan to borrow each year you are in school, estimate the total amount you will borrow. Then use a loan repayment estimator to estimate how much you will have to pay each month and decide how much to borrow.

How do I review what I have borrowed, find out who my lender is and get up-to-date information about my federal student loans?
You can visit the Student Aid website, log in to your account and get detailed information about what you have borrowed, along with a variety of other resources.

Budgeting, Planning and Saving

Budgeting, planning, and saving for college shouldn’t stop once college starts. Having a workable budget, managing your student loan borrowing, and continuing to save and make wise financial decisions while you are in school will set you up with healthy financial habits for life.

According to CollegeBoard.org, the average bachelor's degree recipient in 2017-2018 owed $29,000 in student loans. Additionally, a report from the financial research organization Everfi showed that half of American college students juggle two or more credit cards and accumulate about $1,000 of credit card debt with each card.

Therefore, the average college graduate has about $30,000 of debt. Debt can be a burden and the financial strain can impact your overall health and well-being. You can greatly reduce this financial strain by budgeting realistically with careful regard to your needs, limitations, and short-term and long-term objectives. To get started, consider the following.

What is your income? This should be broken down by month. If your income is highly variable or seasonable, make sure to note those changes to allow for a more accurate picture.

What expenses do you have that are fixed and not negotiable? Some examples of this might be your mortgage or rent, car payment, tuition, etc. What expenses do you have that are variable, such as utilities, for which you can reasonably estimate?

What other items are you spending money on that are not necessities? This might include meals out, subscription services, entertainment and leisure activities.

Make sure to account for your savings as well. Are you currently setting money aside for savings, an emergency fund, or other planned large expenses?

Once you have your income and your expenses accounted for, make a list to determine where money is being spent, if you have more going out than in, and any areas where you might be able to save money or bring your budget in line.

You may wish to keep track of this budget on a spreadsheet, budgeting software, or even in notebook paper or specially designed notebooks available commercially.

Keep track of your income versus expenditures for a few months to get an idea of where your money goes and how you can make changes. Once you have a good handle on it, you may need to only revisit it occasionally.

There are many resources out there to help you create a budget, save for a rainy day, build an emergency fund and plan for the future. Whether you prefer face-to-face human interaction, an app, a website, or a book or podcast, there are tools available in a multitude of formats to help you budget, plan and save.

There are many resources out there to help you create a budget, save, and plan. For more information, check out these budgeting tips at StudentAid.gov.

Contact the Office of Financial Aid

At Columbia Southern University, we pride ourselves on providing our students with the strongest online degree programs at an affordable rate. On average, our tuition is less than half of the cost of our competitors and textbooks are provided at no cost.

Our financial aid office is available to help you with any questions related to funding your college education. Contact us anytime.

Columbia Southern University
Office of Financial Aid
(877) 316-8396

References and Additional Resources