University, college, or even specialist courses can all be very pricey, and for those who don’t have an easy go-to means to fund their education, it can be daunting. While you always have the opportunity to take out a loan, this loan should be your last-case scenario. By first understanding what you want out of your education, what colleges you’re likely to be accepted in, and what funding options, from grants to scholarships, you can apply for. To help you start financially preparing for higher education and to reduce the cost as much as possible, use these tips:

Start By Narrowing Down Your Options

Working out the full costs of any degree takes time, which is why you should first narrow down your options. While a program may state on its website admission requirements that you can fulfil, that doesn’t always guarantee acceptance. Take Purdue University, for example. The average GPA of students that go here is 3.66, and yet those with a perfect 1400 SAT score still have just a 63% chance of getting accepted. This means that being a top student alone isn’t enough and that you’ll also want extracurricular (especially in your chosen field) to help tip you over the edge into acceptance.

Use the college acceptance calculator to estimate your chances of being accepted. If they’re high, then you can include them on your list of potentials. Then, with your options, you can consider the financial impact of each college.

Calculate the Base Costs

There are a few baseline costs to consider. The first is, of course, the cost of your program. This cost is usually fixed and won’t increase year-by-year after you start, so you can plan accordingly. Other base costs include accommodation and all those associated bills. You’ll also need to cover food costs and other miscellaneous costs from going out to shopping. Work out what sort of budget you can manage by investigating dorm costs, average grocery costs, and transportation costs.

Understand Financial Help Options

Every university and state has its own set of financial aid options. These include scholarships and grants. By understanding what types of financial aid you can potentially get from each program, you can establish a clearer understanding of your costs.

Many of these financial programs will require you to apply, which you will want to do as soon as possible. Some scholarships aren’t tied to grades, for example, but talent. Those in art programs may need to go through a selection process based on their portfolio.

Don’t assume you’ll get the financial aid options that you’ll find, but do have a complete list to help you reduce your costs as much as possible.

How to Fund Your Education

If your goal is to keep your education costs as low as possible, you’ll want to keep the loan to a minimum. This means saving up or going to friends or family for funding (even if it comes with a repayment plan). You will also want to choose the option that offers the best value for money on your list. Some programs are very expensive, but the education is similar to a less expensive option elsewhere. Compare programs and costs to ensure you’re getting the best education for your money, and then take out a loan to cover the rest.