College can be a great investment in terms of improving your financial prospects. College graduates often earn significantly more than those who aren’t, to the tune of nearly 50% according to the Economic Policy Institute. However, paying for college can be a tough ordeal, especially for those with limited means. Many use student loans to pay for their college expenses. However, student loans can be a source of financial woes for a considerable period after graduation. This is evident by the fact that the student loan debt in the U.S. is now more than $1.3 trillion, with the per capita average student debt being around $37,000. It can be a tough task to pay off such a hefty sum right after graduation.
Considering the circumstances, it’s no surprise that many individuals are opting out of taking on student loans and are employing other means to pay for their college expenses. Here are some of the ways in which you can graduate debt-free without any undue financial burden:
1. Start saving money beforehand
The easiest way to pay for college without much hassle is to save a considerable amount of money over a long period. You can employ regular savings account for the purpose but it’s advisable to use a 529 plan so that you can take advantage of tax benefits aside from saving money. Many use 529s to pay for college as the monies in a 529 are eligible for a tax exemption if they are for qualified education expenses. If you decide to go for a 529 plan then it’s better to start early to enjoy the full extent of benefits under the plan. However, it’s advisable to have alternative backup savings as 529s rely heavily on stock market returns which can take a downturn at any given moment.
2. Apply for scholarships
Scholarships can allow you to study in the best colleges in the world without any requirement of paying back the grant. Even if you get partial scholarships, they can lower the college expenses considerably. There are numerous scholarships and grants available which can be applied for online. Many local scholarships can also help in taking care of certain college expenses. Most colleges offer some kind of student financial aid, so do remember to learn how to apply for scholarships at the college of your choice.
3. Federal Student Aid
You can also apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It would provide you an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which gives you an estimate as to how much your family can afford to pay for college. Colleges often use this to come with the extent of financial aid that a student is eligible for. This can allow you to cover your college expenses through grants and/ or aids, depending upon your financial capacity. You can also apply for the federal work-study program that provides you a job, usually on campus, to keep up with college costs.
4. Choose a suitable college
If you do not want to utilize student loans for paying off your college expenses, then you would have to be considerate about choosing your college. If you can get into an Ivy League College, you might be eligible for exemption from tuition fees as such colleges have vigorous financial aid programs. However, it is advisable to apply to various colleges, including local colleges which are more affordable than other colleges. After this, you can compare colleges according to their cost after financial aid. Thereafter you can choose a school that is not only affordable but also has a decent program for your field of interest.
5. Give Community Colleges a try
College degrees consist of a variety of core classes that students are required to take, irrespective of their major. Many of these core classes are transferable, so you can attend these classes at a community college and shift the credits back to your degree at your college. Doing so will allow you to save a lot of money without compromising on your credits. You can take care of the basics at a community college for a period of two years and then transfer to a college that offers bachelor’s degrees for years three and four. It will allow you to save a ton of money while attaining the degree of your choice.
6. Concurrent Enrollment
Certain states permit students to earn college credits for classes undertaken during high school. Such classes are often taught to a higher standard and the credit is issued by means of a public university. Credits earned through this method can also be transferred to state universities depending upon where you live. For instance, it’s possible to finish dual enrolment credits without any charge in states like Idaho. You can also get a discount on credits to the tune of 50% if you are a high school student working on your college credits.
7. Explore Directional Schools
A community college is a decent option for the first two years and if you’re opting for a rather technical career, then a community college might suffice. However, if you are looking for a relatively more academic-oriented career, directional schools can be a good option. They are different from flagship schools which produce the most research as they dedicate more resources to teaching and classroom experiences rather than producing research publications. Such schools tend to have names that indicate their location within the state. Since these focus more than teaching and also have cheaper fees, they can be a good alternative.
8. Consider Trade Schools
You can also opt for trade schools if you enjoy working with or would like to have expertise over practical skills such as mechanics, electrical work, etc. Trade schools provide productive skills that are highly marketable. A trade school program also takes less time and money than conventional courses.
Internships are a good option for gaining extra cash flow to help you take care of college expenses while providing you with the opportunity of learning valuable skills in your area of interest. Many universities provide you access to internships while you might have to search for them on your own.
10. Student Research Work
You can work as an undergraduate researcher in various research centres to help you take care of your college expenses. They provide decent reimbursement and allow you to work on projects and gain real-world experience that is valued by employers. You should go for this option in an area where you possess prior experience.
11. Work Along with College
You can also take up part-time jobs, rather than waiting after graduation, in order to take care of your expenses. There are tons of high paying jobs out there that don’t always require full-time. A certain amount of work besides the time spent in the classroom and library can allow you to boost your academic performance. You can go for a federal work-study program or off-campus jobs in the service sector as they may be compatible with your academic schedule. However, the possibilities of earning the extra cash-flow along with your academics are not limited to the aforementioned.
12. Live Off-Campus
The greatest expense in your college fees is often the cost of your room and other living costs. You can live off campus to save a lot of money as living at your home or sharing an apartment with roommates would be considerably cheaper than living on campus. These may be inconvenient and detrimental to the freedom that you might be looking for. But this could be a worthwhile sacrifice for your college education.
Formulating a budget might seem too obvious, but the sheer number of people who overlook it is just astounding. If you want to avoid taking on a student loan, you must avoid any unnecessary expenses to make the most of constricted income and savings. Formulating a budget would provide you clarity about how much you can spend and how you might want to change spending habits to save money.