The average college student graduates with more than $35,000 in debt. Seventy percent (70%) of them graduate with not just a degree but a boatload of debt too. While most students and parents will probably say it’s impossible to go to college and not be in debt, some things can be done in advance to help curtail some of that student loan debt.
If you feel you have to avoid the college route to avoid the debt that comes with it, we’re here to say you do have options. Opportunities exist for you to attend college and be debt free; you just need to know them to take advantage of them.
There is a right way to go to college without being engrossed in so much debt, and here’s how:
Take College Courses While in High School
Check with your high school counselor about taking dual-enrollment classes while in high school. Dual enrollment classes are college courses you can take in high school and receive college credit from them. That means that’s one less class to have to pay for in college. Dual enrollment classes are different at each high school and may even have a cost associated with them. However, the cost to take the course in high school will be significantly less than it would be in college.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses are also college-level courses that can be taken in high school. AP classes require a little more work, independent learning, and greater critical thinking and require passing a knowledge test to determine if you receive college credit.
Study To Score High on Your ACT/SAT
Take your SAT and/or ACT score seriously. Understand that the higher you score on these tests, the more opportunities for scholarships for college increase. Grants, along with scholarships, consist of free money that you don’t have to pay back. Take the time to study for your tests. Remember, the higher your scores, the more scholarships you qualify for.
Complete the FAFSA Form
Every year on October 1, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form becomes available for parents and students to complete. High school seniors and college students should thoroughly complete the FAFSA form to receive federal aid through grants, financial aid, work-study programs, and other monies available to help students get through school. The sooner you complete the form for the schools you’re applying to or already attending, the sooner you’ll be in line to receive available money. With so many families in need of tuition assistance, money could quickly become unavailable if it’s awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Apply for Scholarships
Thousands of scholarships are available yearly to assist students with college tuition. Most students wait until their senior year to start applying for scholarships, but not all scholarships require you to be a high school senior. Some scholarships are applicable to high school students in general or specifically for sophomores or juniors. Imagine already having two or three scholarships under your belt before your senior year even starts. Not only should you start looking for scholarships early, but you should be applying regularly. If you’re not applying for at least one scholarship a week during the school year, you haven’t applied for enough. Free money for college is out there. You just have to do your due diligence.
Attend an Affordable School
Rather than insisting on attending your dream school, which probably has a tuition price that’s out of this world, plan to attend a school that’s reasonably priced for you. Community colleges are economical options for taking general courses or prerequisites. It’s a smart idea to complete your first two years at a community college, then finish up at a four-year college. That way, your total tuition over the course of your years in college is more controllable.
Another consideration is technical or trade school. Not all careers require a bachelor’s degree. Consider what you would like to do once high school is finished. Do the research to learn how much education you need to get started in that field. It may be that you could get the education you need from a trade or technical school. You could determine that you could even start pursuing your career with a certification you can acquire online.
Work Part-Time During High School and College
It’s never too early to start working toward college. You could even save money from working while you’re in high school to help with college. Most colleges will allow you to pay an installment throughout the school year. You could continue to work part-time while in college to help offset some of your tuition.
Check with your college about their work-study program to see how you can apply for it. If you qualify, you could use the money you earn from work-study to help pay for college.
Manage Your College Lifestyle
It can get expensive if you want to take full advantage of the college lifestyle while on campus. Whether it’s eating out nightly, shopping regularly, partying, or pledging fraternities or sororities, you’ll soon learn that it doesn’t take long for all those expenses to add up. One way to keep your college debt in check is to limit all the extravagant college living by managing your lifestyle while in college. Back in my day, Roman noodles were the way to go. Nowadays, college students want to hang out with the “Joneses.” Don’t try to live a lifestyle that you can’t afford.
The Bottom Line
You shouldn’t just wake up on the last day of your senior year and decide to apply for college. Your college journey should be prepped in advance so you don’t feel the sting of the tremendous debt that could haunt you for the rest of your life. Americans have over a trillion dollars in debt from student loans, and with tuition rates increasing yearly, the dollar amount steadily rises. Take one or a few of these practices to heart to go to college the right way.
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