The majority of college students now graduate with student loan debt. By keeping your borrowing to a minimum, you’ll have a much easier time in repayment. It’s important to know your expenses and financial resources each semester so you can determine what’s covered what you’ll need to budget for.

First, you need to understand what your direct college costs are going to be. These costs are usually charged by the college and include tuition, fees, books, supplies, and possibly room and board. Students living off campus should identify extra monthly expenses, such as rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, etc. You can find a simple budgeting worksheet to help get you started.

Once you’ve identified your expenses, take note of what resources you have to pay those costs. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used each year to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid programs as well as some state financial aid programs. Remember, you need to complete the FAFSA every year starting in October for the following school year.

If you are receiving financial aid, any funds you receive (including student loans), will be used first to satisfy your direct costs at the college (such as tuition and fees). If you have any remaining financial aid funds, you will receive that credit balance to use for any other expenses. The funds received in September are intended to cover the costs you incur during that entire semester – so don’t rush out and spend it all at once!

Check in on any other source of income. If you work while going to college, use that income as a resource for expenses. Perhaps you also have some other financial support from parents or other family members. Once you’ve identified all sources of income, you may realize that your expenses are greater than the income or resources you have to pay those expenses. At this point, it’s a good idea to see if there are ways to cut your expenses.

At this point, some students face the reality that they may need to use a student loan to help pay some of those expenses. If you’ve done a good job of identifying your expenses and available resources, you should have a good idea of what you need to borrow. If you do need to borrow a student loan, only borrow what you need and nothing more.

Student loans can be a great resource when used responsibly. Remember to use your federal student loans first before exploring private loan options. If you need to pursue a private loan, visit to learn more about funding solutions and other resources for managing your finances.

College can be difficult enough when you’re trying to get through classes and exams. You’ll be in a better position to focus on your studies if you don’t need to worry about your finances. Remember to continually revisit your budget and develop a solid plan for understanding your expenses each semester.

Ron Hancock
Written By:

Ron Hancock is the Regional Director for U‑fi Student Loans and is an expert in many aspects of financial aid, student loans, and debt management. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Ron has worked in a number of areas of higher education finance, including positions in a college financial aid office, training and development for a state agency, and most recently as National Manager for Nelnet’s Partner Solutions team. Ron has spoken at numerous financial aid conferences all across the United States.

View all posts by Ron Hancock