It's likely that you will have to take on some type of debt to complete a college degree. After attending school for 5 years, I graduated with about $35K of student loan debt. According to the U.S. Department of Education:
"The average total cost of attendance in 2011-12 for first-time, full-time students living on campus and paying in-state tuition was $21,000 at public 4-year institutions..."
With those costs in mind, it’s no wonder you may be considering taking on student debt to cover your college costs. However, there is no need to use student loans for the full cost. Here are 5 ways you can minimize your need for student loans.
1) Apply for Scholarships and Grants
All financial aid is not created equal.
The most valuable financial aid comes in the form of grants and scholarships. You are essentially receiving “free” money that does not have to be repaid.
Grants often come in the form of federal financial aid. Individual states also have grant programs, such as a Lottery Tuition Assistance. These programs are supported by the state lottery and awarded on merit. The Georgia Hope Scholarship is one example.
Consider applying for scholarships at the school you plan to attend. Many private schools have large endowments that award scholarships to deserving students. And public colleges often have alumni that provide scholarships.
2) Only Borrow What You Need
If you know your major and you decide to take out a student loan, one rule of thumb is to only borrow what you can expect to make in your first year of employment. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the starting salary in 2012 for a communications major is around $43,000.
If you follow this suggestion, your total student loans for all four years of college should be less than or equal to this. If you make a commitment to save half of your income each year, you may even be able to pay off your student loans in less than three years!
3) Use Parental Support
While you're in high school and have the benefit of free food and housing, you can work and save money for college. Learn to live within your means now so you can minimize the amount of student loans you will need.
Instead of taking extravagant spring break trips with your friends, you can vacation with your family. Bring along one of your closest friends and drive to the closest beach.
Living at home while in college is a great way to save money. This option will not apply to everyone, but if you live close enough to your college then you may be able to live at home and save money.
4) Community College First, Then University
Taking advantage of a local community college can also help save money. You can earn the college credits that you need in the first two years at a lesser expense than at a full 4-year university. After completing your first two years at a community college, you can then complete your full degree at a university and enjoy the benefit of a degree from a big-name school without the full four-year cost. This way, you could potentially save over ten thousand dollars! Good job!
5) Work During College
You can work part-time or full-time while you are in school. While you may have to balance school, work, spending time with friends, and enjoying college activities, it can be a good opportunity to start paying off student loans. Paying off the debt while in college will help you avoid unnecessary fees and interest that would have accrued while you were in school.
If you are working full-time, there is even a chance that your employer will pay your tuition or reimburse you for your costs. This is a great way to make attend college while minimizing debt.
What if I Don't Have a Major?
If you are not sure what you want to do when you graduate, chances are you will be in school a long time, changing majors and racking up a big bill. If you are not sure what you want to do, consider working full-time while you figure it out by taking a few classes to explore your interests and career options.
You’ll at least find out what you don’t want to do, and it will put you closer to deciding what you do want to do. In the meantime, pay for your classes with the money you make working full-time. You can also look to a guidance counselor or professor of the classes you are taking for advice.
How do you plan to minimize your need for student loans?