By Kimberly Reynolds
Students graduate college with a degree, and more often than not, with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. According to the Project on Student Debt, outstanding student loans now total $833 billion, surpassing credit card debt for the first time in history. Two-thirds of college seniors graduated with loans in 2010 and carried an average of $25,250 in debt. Although these facts are alarming, keep in mind that with some planning and the following helpful tips, you can avoid unnecessary college debt.
Get acquainted with your high school counselor. He or she can help you find scholarships. There are plenty of scholarships that people don’t know about and don’t take advantage of. For example, if you are a male 6′2″ or taller, or a female 5′10″ or taller, you can be in the running for the Tall Clubs International Scholarship. Who would’ve thought you could get a scholarship just for being tall? Your counselor can also help you decide which classes you should take to prepare you for college. Most high schools offer dual credit classes so you can gain college credits and save money.
Know what you want to do before you start college. If you don’t know, wait. If you can’t afford to wait (no pun intended) start out at community college. You can take general education classes at a fraction of the cost of a 4-year university. These general education classes count for just as much university credit. Employers don’t care where you spent your first few semesters. They care where you graduated from. You can take two years’ worth of general education credits at a community college and then transfer to a 4-year college. Your diploma will still say, “Bachelor of [Arts] from [This 4-Year University]. If you start at a 4-year school and don’t know what you want to do, you may end up switching majors, causing you to waste time and money. There are many ways to figure out what you want to do, like researching online, speaking with people in your area of interest, or taking a personal interest test.
Pick the right school for you – not the one your buddies are going to. Public colleges are a better deal than private ones. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the average annual price for 4-year public colleges and universities is $7,020, compared to $26,273 for private colleges.
Pick a major that usually leads to a higher-paying job. This may not sound politically correct, but the whole point of going to college is so you can earn a good living. You should make sure your major has a high earning potential. If you’re going to college solely to learn more, you probably don’t need to be reading this. But, if you do have some student loan debt, a higher-paying job will let you pay it off faster.
Housing and parking – plant yourself. In-state tuition is much cheaper than out-of-state. And, if you can live at home, you can save on room and board and food expenses. Don’t feel like you have to “go-off” to college to get the true “college experience.” Most people will say it’s not worth the extra money spent on housing to get the “living on your own experience.” In reality, you’re not on your own, because if you can’t afford it, you’re actually dependent on someone else’s money, or worse, student loans that you’ll be hit with as soon as you graduate. You go to college to learn and to eventually better yourself with a career, not to party. If it’s not possible to live at home, an alternative is to stay off campus. Living off campus is cheaper than dorms or on-campus apartments. By walking or biking to class you can save even more because you won’t need to buy a parking permit.
Take online courses. Online courses and degrees are typically less expensive and can save on travel, books and supplies. Many accredited 2-year and 4-year institutions offer a broad range of distance learning options. With gas prices rising, this option looks pretty good.
Never buy new books! There’s no need to spend more money on a brand new book when you can buy a used one cheaper. You should also check online before you buy your books at the campus book store. Online stores like Amazon.com usually carry used books at greatly reduced prices. You can also check your campus library, it may have a copy of the book to check out instead of buy.
Steer clear of credit cards – you don’t need them. All of the major credit card companies will be waiting on campus to give you credit (that will be hard to pay off). If you don’t have the self-discipline to only spend what is necessary, don’t sign up for the card.
Take extra classes or work. If you take more classes per semester, you can graduate sooner and start earning money sooner. You can load up on hours during the semester or you can take summer classes. Graduating in under 4 years can save you a significant amount of money. However, it may be more beneficial to work throughout college instead of taking extra classes. You can schedule your classes so that you can work 15-20 hours a week and earn money to cover your spending needs. You have to decide which path is the better one for you.
Work-study programs. These programs offer part-time employment to help with college expenses. Schools also offer employment opportunities in exchange for room and board. For instance, if you work as an R.A. (Resident Advisor), you may be able to receive free room and board. On-campus jobs tend to leave you with plenty of time to study and do homework. Paid internships are also highly recommended opportunities to earn money – and work experience – throughout your college experience.
Network. Find out who you should network with. Get to know your professors, who can help you network. In many schools, the professors have actually worked or are working in the field they are teaching. Make sure to join groups that will benefit you and your career. It’s much easier to get a job after you graduate if you know the right people. It’s all about networking!
Start saving now. Every penny counts.
A college degree is no longer a luxury. It’s almost a necessity if you want to be successful. When choosing your college, remember that the school you attend isn’t the biggest decision of your life. When you graduate, you’ll be thrown into the pool of applicants looking for a similar job. What matters more is what you did while attending college. If you attended a very prestigious school, but had mediocre grades, and no extracurricular activities or work experience, your resume probably won’t stand out to a potential employer. What you get out of college is what you put in. Finding creative ways to pay for your education will put you at an intellectual, professional and financial advantage.
Project on Student Debt – http://projectonstudentdebt.org/
Tall Clubs International Scholarship – http://www.tall.org/
National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education – http://www.highereducation.org/
Kimberly Reynolds is a Physical Therapist in Dallas, Texas. She got her physical therapy degree online in 2010. She has a passion for learning new things and is currently working on mastering the piano. On a typical day after work, you may find her walking her dogs, Bella and Doug, reading, writing, and discussing the latest viral video on YouTube. She loves coconut bread pudding, hummus, music, and photography.