By Angela Paul
There are so many ways to reduce and perhaps eliminate college loans. I have worked with students for the past 20 years with college admissions and we work hard to help our students get into college with the least amount of debt. Several strategies have to be used.
1. Apply for scholarships. You have to start the scholarship search early and continue throughout high school and college. Some scholarships are institute specific, some are major specific and some are relatively open. High grades, high college entrance exam scores, special skills like sports or music are all areas that can help you land a scholarship. Some private schools give need based scholarships that can dramatically lower the cost of attendance and you can often negotiate with these schools. Some corporate scholarships are linked to internships and work requirements. All of my kids used state scholarship money for college. My youngest went to school out of state, but asked her school to match the state scholarship and they did. My oldest daughter had a combination of academic and athletic scholarships. It allowed her to get her bachelor’s and master’s paid for.
2. Look for grants. These are often need based. Lots of federal and state grants are available. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Note that the first word is free. It doesn’t cost any money to file a FAFSA and you want to avoid any website that charges a fee for this. Many state programs are keyed to the FAFSA, so you will want to use this even if you think you will not qualify for federal aid. Like scholarships, grants do not have to be repaid.
3. Explore dual enrollment. This is taking college classes while still in high school and getting both high school and college credit for both. In many states the costs for dual enrollment if covered by public school funds. Just be sure that your student is taking classes that will count for the degree they want. You can also use AP classes (examination required) and CLEP to build college credits.
4. Complete an internship. My oldest son had an internship with the US Geologic Survey. He worked summers for them and was able to get a stipend for tuition. Look for paid internships and extra business if tuition reimbursement is provided. It’s great to graduate with a degree and work experience in your field. Win-win.
5. Live at home. One of the biggest expenses is room and board. If at all possible live at home to avoid these costs. You are not limited to colleges within driving distance – online programs allow you access to a much wider number of colleges and universities. My youngest daughter took advantage of this. I was initially skeptical about this option, but I was greatly impressed by the depth and caliber of her online classes. She did have to complete a few projects onsite but she saved $20,000 this way.
6. Live with a relative, church member, elderly person. Explore the options of different living situations to help defray the cost of room and board. While my husband and I were in college and grad school we had three different people who we allowed to live with us for free for a semester to help them finish up.
7. Do a Work and Study program. Working while you attend college is a good option. Campus jobs are the easiest to work around a college schedule but are not necessarily the best hourly rate. My girls both worked on campus and were able to get a lot of studying done while manning a desk. Studies show that students who work actually have higher GPA’s than those who do not. Be careful not to work too many hours.
8. Join the military, ROTC, National Guard. These options requirement military service, which can be good work experience as well. . Just be sure you understand what you are signing up for. I know of several doctors who used the military to pay for college and med school.
9. Be wise. If you do get loans, keep them to a minimum. Just because you are offered $10,000 doesn’t mean you have to accept the entire amount. Don’t use loan money to pay for clothes and entertainment. Look for the cheapest ways to pay for books. Stay on a budget and stick with it.
I received a message today that one of my students is all set for college with absolutely no student loans. This ambitious young lady is using a number of strategies to obtain her bachelor’s degree without incurring debt. She took advantage of dual enrollment and AP classes. She has been awarded the Zell Miller Scholarship which will cover her tuition at the state university she is attending. She has her own business and will be able to work around her school schedule. And she has made the wise decision to live at home eliminating the costs of room and board. These steps will save her over $80,000.