Going to college can be the experience of a lifetime, but you don’t want to go broke doing it. Some debt is almost unavoidable. Most college students who graduate from a four-year institution leave with an average of $29,400 in student loans with high interest rates—and student loan debt is growing. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, higher education debt is the second largest source of consumer debt in America, after mortgage debt.
Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can try to keep college costs in line. Here are 6 to consider:
- Stay in-state. In-state tuition costs for public colleges and universities are almost always less than out-of-state university tuition. Explore financial aid packages before making a decision. Some private universities offer exceptional financial aid—including free tuition—to outstanding students with financial need. You can always pick up a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from your school’s financial aid office.
- Explore community colleges. You may be able to cut the average cost of your bachelor’s degree significantly by spending the first two academic years at an inexpensive community college and then transferring to a four-year college to finish your degree program. Be sure to confirm that credits earned in those two years will transfer to the college or university of your choice.
- Leverage high school. If your high school offers Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs, you may be able to obtain college credit for some classes. In addition, some states offer co-enrollment options, allowing you to take college classes for credit at no cost while a high school student.
- Burn the midnight oil. Although it may mean curtailing your social life and giving up a part-time job, you could consider piling up on college credits during regular semesters and taking classes during winter and summer breaks. Just be sure your college coursework is manageable so you don’t jeopardize your grades. By finishing your degree in three years instead of four, you can save money—an entire year of fees and room and board.
- Look for free money. Apply for all scholarships for which you are eligible, even the ones that may be just enough to cover a semester’s books. Find out if your intended school offers free or reduced college tuition in exchange for work on campus through a work-study program. If you think you’d like the job, apply for a resident assistant (RA) position; RAs often get free room and board in exchange for helping dorm life run smoothly. If you’re a servicemember, veteran or family member, check out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for veteran education benefits eligibility.
- Ditch dorm life. Choosing a school near home and commuting could save you a lot of money, even thousands of dollars in room and board. Live off campus with family to save on your living expenses and lessen your financial burden.
This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.