Attending college is an expensive proposition. You pay for tuition, fees, books, housing, and food, as well as for entertainment and activities. And the costs just keep rising. Even if you attend a “cheap” university, you could easily end up paying quite a lot by the end.
Due to the expensiveness of college, many students can’t afford to pay outright for their education. The student loan business is booming as borrowers increase. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can reduce your need for student loans with the right strategy.
Free Money: Scholarships and Grants
Free money is always a good thing, and there are a number of opportunities to get help paying for college without spending your own cash. However, you do have to work for it a little bit. There are scholarships available, as well as grants.
If you can show financial need, there are grants and scholarships available from charitable foundations, and from the government. You can also earn scholarships based on academic or sporting merit. Some schools even award scholarships to returning students, so even if you don’t start with a scholarship, you might have the chance to earn one later one.
Plan Ahead: Save Up
If you know that you are going to college, plan ahead and start saving up. You can use a Coverdell ESA, or a 529 Plan to help you improve your returns and save up money faster. Don’t forget to make the effort to set aside money for college. Working over time, you have a better chance of amassing cash to help you pay some of your expenses while in college.
Consider the School
Many people think that they have to attend a four-year university to succeed. This isn’t the case. My husband started out at a community college. It cost a lot less, and he was able to live at home. When he transferred to finish, he had good grades from the community college and qualified for a scholarship at the new school.
Also, look at the difference between public and private universities. Often, the difference in the education isn’t that great – but the price tag is. You can also think about smaller schools. The small public university I attended for undergraduate studies had professors teaching the classes; at the more prestigious universities, you are often shuffled off to underlings, so you don’t even get the benefit of having the professor teach you and interact with you. A less expensive school can be just the thing for some people.
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Realize, too, that a four-year degree isn’t the answer for everyone. Not everyone likes the idea of going to school for that long. Don’t force yourself to. There are plenty of interesting and decent-paying jobs that require training ranging from nine months to two years. Consider getting a professional certification or degree at a vocational or tech school. You’ll spend less money, and be in the workforce, earning, much quicker.
Don’t forget about living arrangements. Consider living at home for part of your education. If you don’t live at home, it can be worth it to look for a less expensive place off campus, and split the costs with roommates. While you’re at it, plan your meals, and make them yourself when you can. You’ll save money over buying everything that you eat.
You can also reduce your need for student loans with a part-time job. Choose that job wisely, and you are in an even better position. When I worked for university food services, I got a free meal at the end of my shift. I also worked as a resident adviser, and received free housing for two years.
Combine the above strategies, and it’s possible that you might make it through university without student loans. Looking back, I realize that I shouldn’t have had student loans at all. There was no excuse for it. I had a scholarship at an inexpensive school, part-time jobs with perks, and other advantages. With the right planning, and a refusal to take student loans just because they were offered, I could have completed my four-year degree debt-free.
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