• Personal Finance Interview with Dawn Papandrea on Paying for College for Mint.com

    In years past, the focus of the college admissions process for high school students involved picking out and applying to their dream school, with an emphasis placed on well-known, prestigious schools that more often than not came with huge price tags. But fallout from the struggling economy has forced both students and their parents to rethink what makes the perfect school.

    "The big question these days is the 'value' of a college degree," says Dawn Papandrea, managing editor of The CollegeBound Network, which publishes the U. Got It? Blog. "With students graduating with tremendous student loan debt and no guarantee that they'll land a great paying job, it's a tough call to choose to attend a pricey institution."

    In addition to being choosier about what school to attend, students are also putting more emphasis on choosing majors that have a well-defined career path, and doing internships throughout school to help build a strong network and gain work experience, she adds.

    We recently checked in with Dawn to get more of her insight and tips on paying for a college education and how to manage your money wisely while earning a degree.

    What's the story behind the College Bound Network?

    We were founded in 1987 as the publishers of CollegeBound Teen magazine, a free publication that aimed to help high schoolers with the high school-to-college transition. Today, we're an online education marketing company that connects students of all ages with educational opportunities, including colleges and universities, online learning, career training and continuing education. We offer content to students and their parents on how to get into and succeed at college and beyond, and have a strong following on social media.

    Who should be visiting your site?

    Anyone interested in pursuing higher education, career training or continuing education. We also have a large audience comprised of the parents of college-bounders.

    What are some interesting, outside-of-the-box ways students are paying for their education these days?

    Many students are beginning their studies at local, public institutions and then transferring out later to the more expensive "dream" schools. Others are reaping the efforts of their parents who took advantage of pre-paid college tuition plans or 529 savings accounts, while others are applying for tons of scholarships. Students are also using CLEP exams, AP credits, and portfolio reviews to earn credits and help accelerate their studies, thus saving them a semester or more of tuition.

    What are the biggest mistakes college students make when it comes to managing money?

    First off, the biggest mistake is to wait until you go to college to start thinking about money management. From at least a year or so before, the student should get familiar with using a checking account and debit card, maintaining a budget, saving money from part-time work, etc. On campus, I think a lot of students fail to take advantage of all of the free and discounted perks that they have available to them, from the school's fitness center to on-campus events and entertainment.

    What are some easy ways for students to earn money while attending school full time?

    Obviously, finding a part-time job that fits well into your school schedule is a great way. But many students also begin exploring their entrepreneurial sides as well, offering a variety of services from peer tutoring, tech help, web design, etc.

    What are some of your favorite tips for living frugally while in college?

    Anything students can learn to do for themselves can be a money saver. So cooking their own meals, making their own coffee, etc. Also, savvy students save on textbooks by buying used ones or searching for online discounts. Also, many college students use their family's Netflix or other streaming accounts instead of paying for cable.

    Why is it that young adults tend to be most at-risk for identity theft? What can they do to protect themselves?

    At college, people come and go in the dorms, so anytime your credit cards, phone, or computers are in plain sight, there is a risk that someone could steal your information. It's important to get in the habit of not leaving your personal items around, and password-protecting your tech gadgets. Also, make some rules with your roommates about locking up, and who can be left in the room unattended. Lastly, be careful about online activity/purchases since you'll mostly be using the school's Wi-Fi.

    How can students go about finding the schools that offer the most value for their money?

    Sticker price is not the final word on how much a college will cost you. It's vital to apply for financial aid via the FAFSA (free application for federal student aid), as well as any scholarships, etc. After acceptance letters come in, you'll receive financial aid packages from each school, and that's where you'll do your real comparison shopping. That being said, don't think that if a school is less expensive that it's not a good quality education. There are many fabulous city and state institutions that are prestigious and offer a great education. Likewise, look into the lesser-known or second-tier private colleges as well, as they may be more generous with aid since less students are applying (as compared to the top ranked, highly selective colleges).

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