Considering college? Wondering how you’re going to pay for it? Those student loans might look appealing, especially if you won’t see a bill until after graduation … Stop right there. Don’t sign up for a single loan just yet. First, consider the options we’re going to lay out in this article.
According to Maryville University, student loan balances are at record highs over $1 trillion as of 2015 and growing. You might think your student loan is just the tool to success and you’ll only use it for tuition and books. But pretty soon you’re making excuses and using just a little to buy some food this week and suddenly you’re wondering how you racked up over $30k in debt. It happens to the best of us.
Students, learn from your predecessors. Don’t take out any more than you need and try to avoid loans as much as possible. Set a goal to graduate with as little debt as possible and shoot for funding alternatives like scholarships and grants. Here’s how to take advantage of these opportunities and reach your goal.
Shoot for Scholarships
Every student knows that scholarships are priceless. What many don’t know is the plethora of scholarship options available to all different types of people. Some of these include:
- Student entrepreneurs
- Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts
- Minority students
- Film students
- Fashion students
- Aspiring lawyers
- Students with autism or aspergers
There are also scholarships for high school seniors interested in a trade like welding or medical assisting. Just think about what you want to study, what you’re good at, what makes you unique, then search for scholarships in those areas. Also look for local scholarships, church and community programs, and ask your teachers and school counselors.
It’s recommended you apply for every single scholarship you can find, even the small ones, as they can add up quickly. Remember to make sure any scholarship you are offered is legitimate by researching the source and to never pay to find scholarships.
Make Use of Grants
Just like scholarships, grants are free money as long as you don’t withdraw from any classes, drop out, or fail. When you apply for financial aid, you might notice a Pell Grant number along with your possible loan amount.
Your grant amount will be based on a few factors:
- Tuition costs
- Expected family contributions
- Enrollment status
Always use Pell Grants before loans because you won’t have to pay any of it back. Keep in mind that grant money will usually go straight to the school instead, and you will have to report grant money on your taxes.
Work While You Study
Yes, college requires a lot of work. But if you can swing it, try to work for living money on the side of your coursework. Look for part-time jobs that allow you to study in your downtime. Apply for work-study programs through your school and work fun jobs throughout the summer and holiday breaks. Ask a school counselor for recommendations.
Admittedly, it can be tough to hold down a job while in college. Some part-time jobs want you to stick to their schedule and have little wiggle room for last minute arrangements. So a great alternative is to offer services like cleaning houses/offices in the evenings or freelancing with the many skills you’re gaining in school, like editing or graphic design.
Save Where You Can
Funding college isn’t all about spending money. Saving is important too! Here are a few tips to help you reach your goal of graduating with as little debt as possible:
- Make simple meals instead of purchasing expensive meal plans
- Attend college in your home state
- Live at home or with a couple of roommates
- Take online courses that give you the flexibility to work
- Take your general courses at a city college
Every student should avoid taking on the mountain of debt that many graduates still struggle to pay off, if at all possible. It can be tempting to go all in and live the college life on your loans, but there’s no guarantee you’ll have a high paying job waiting for you at the end of your jaunt. It’s just not worth it. Use scholarships and grants to pay your tuition fees and try to work and save as much as possible to help with living expenses. You’ll thank yourself later.
When scholarships and savings don’t cover it, you need to find a student loan that best fits your circumstances (so you don’t overpay). Use College Raptor’s new Student Loan Finder to discover personalized loan options. Compare lenders and interest rates to find the student loan that fits you.