Without a doubt, college is expensive. No matter how creative and compromising you may be when selecting institutions, you are most likely going to need to borrow some money.
Here are a few tips to help you graduate with as little debt as possible.
1. Save for College
A college savings account will eliminate the stress of worrying how you will pay for your education.
2. Do Well in High School
Scholarships are the best way to cover your tuition—they do not need to be repaid. Even if your grades are not so stellar, there are many scholarships available that are not based on merit, many of which go unused. Search online to find them.
3. Shop Around
Carefully weigh your decision as to where you want to go with what colleges have the most favorable tuition and fees. Look out for institutions that are lowering or freezing tuition, or even better, those that are offering scholarships to increase and diversify enrollment.
4. Student Loans
This can sometimes feel like free money, but student loans must be repaid. The US Department of Education reports that 13% of students defaulted on their loans in 2013 an improvement from the nearly 15% in 2012. Do your research and take advantage of the latest government programs, such as income-driven options, which cap your monthly payments based upon your discretionary income. The cap is set at 10-15% of your discretionary income and forgiven completely after 20 to 25 years, if you make the monthly payments as required.
5. Alternative Lending Options
You may need to put together a package of financial assistance: scholarships, grants, federal student loan, and a personal loan from an alternative lending market institution, such as a crowdfunding or peer to peer lending platform. These alternative lending markets are more accessible, online platforms that enable you to quickly obtain a personal loan to supplement your financial aid basket.
6. Give Some Thought to the Future
Sit down and seriously think about your career plans, life goals, and potential income according to your chosen course of study. Ask yourself how much debt you want to carry around after graduation, when you are starting to build a career. Research the job market for your degree and be realistic with your expectations of how much income you can look forward to earning. Is your career choice a wise one in light of the financial aid debt that you will have to repay shortly after graduation?
7. Avoid Credit Card Debt
If you already have a credit card, do not use it to pay your tuition. When in college, steer away from all the free credit card offers. If you decide to accept a credit card, keep your charges to the most minimal level, pay off the bill each month in full and on time, and resist that voice that urges you to buy now and pay later.
With careful planning, research, and conservative spending strategies, you can look forward to a blissful graduation from college, with minimum debt and a financially clean slate upon which to build your future.