4 Smart Ways to Graduate College Without Oppressive Student Loan Debt

It’s hardly a news flash that college is not cheap.

The College Board recently released updated figures in its Trends in College Pricing 2018 report. For the 2018 – 2019 school year alone, the average cost for tuition, fees, room and board comes to $21,370 for an in-state, public, four-year college. Out-of-state students at those schools see rates averaging $37,430. And, although some institutions are choosing a different path, students opting to attend private, four-year colleges can expect total annual costs to be $48,510.

Few people are in a position to pay any of those bills four times over for themselves or even one child. And that’s precisely why 44 million Americans wrestle with student loan debt. Plus, with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars owed, borrowers can face years — or even decades — of financial setback before being able to reach their goals.

But what if a quality education didn’t come at the high cost of your Financial Freedom? You can land a college diploma with little or no student loan debt holding you back. Here’s how:

1. Look for a great value

Fact: You don’t need to go to one of the priciest schools to receive an incredible education and have a successful career.

Do some research to find schools that provide immense value relative to the amount students typically pay out. Use a research-backed tool to filter by price, location, number of students and more. You may be surprised to find that some high-caliber state schools or even community colleges offer the best bang for your buck.

While you’re looking, be realistic about what you and your kids can reasonably spend on college. Don’t sacrifice other essential priorities — building your Security Buffer or paying insurance premiums, for instance — just to save a bit more for advanced education.

2. Take advantage of high school

Surprise! High school can save you massive sums of money on college costs!

When choosing a high school, find one with an excellent reputation for academics and a great guidance program that walks kids through the complex college application process. Look for a curriculum with a wide array of electives. After all, high school students who take extra classes in their chosen field or try a variety of studies make for more appealing college applicants. And check for availability of extracurriculars that admission officers love — service clubs, arts, STEM, sports and leadership opportunities.

Did you know you can earn college credit while still in high school, saving you on costly classes at a university? Explore the AP classes your high school offers. Passing the final exam can often land you credit for an entire class (or two!) in college.

Also, see if your local community college allows high school students to take one or two classes on campus to earn credit.

Finally, have your kids study up for important standardized tests during high school years. Excellent performance on the PSAT may qualify your child for National Merit scholarships, and great SAT scores open doors for both admission and merit-based aid. So buy some well-reviewed test prep books, borrow them from the library or invest in a test prep class.

3. Make Your Money Work For You

Whenever possible, using your own money to cover education costs is a far better alternative than succumbing to student loan debt. And the earlier you start allocating that money, the better.

Invest your cash in tax-advantaged, educational savings accounts like a 529 Plan or Coverdell ESA. Keep in mind you’re free to use any state’s 529 Plan if you’re not sold on the plan or the incentives offered by your own state.

And have your college-bound kid save up from part-time work during high school. Don’t sacrifice study time or too much free time, but holding down a job or freelancing during college is also a great way to supplement money needed for college bills.

4. Get serious about finding money

There are countless ways to find aid and even free money for college if you know where to look.

Start by filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) each and every year your kid is heading off to school. You may qualify for need-based aid, work-study programs, grants and more.

Look for schools that offer hefty scholarships for academics, sports, music or whatever expertise your kid can demonstrate. And search the immense number of third-party scholarships available. Even a handful of small scholarships won can add up quickly in savings.

Paying for college can be a terrifying prospect for any parent or wannabe student. And funding that education with student loan debt can seriously slow your journey to Financial Freedom. But, with a few smart strategies, you can secure a college education with little or no student debt.

image credit: Bigstock/TeroVesalainen

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