While earning a degree paves the way for increased career income, graduating with large amounts of student loan debt can negatively impact a student’s ability to obtain financial freedom for years and sometimes decades. Getting in the proper financial mindset and planning ahead can help minimize student loan debt.
1. Apply for scholarships
Scholarships are free money that do not have to be repaid by the student. It’s important to apply early, as some scholarships are awarded on a first-come-first served basis. Students should begin applying by the summer before their senior year in high school.
Students who have the largest part of their college expenses covered through scholarships tend to have scholarships from a wide variety of sources. Most colleges and universities offer scholarship opportunities, plus local and national scholarships from various sources are available. Students should check with their high school counselor for scholarship opportunities and begin with local community scholarships before applying for national scholarships, which can be more competitive. But the key is applying for multiple scholarships. Large scholarships are great, but small scholarships can really add up and reduce the out-of-pocket expense of a college degree.
2. Apply for financial aid
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important resource for students who are trying to create a financial plan to pay for school. It is the key that opens the door to scholarships, grants and loans. A federal or state grant is one form of aid a student might be eligible to receive. Just like a scholarship, a grant does not have to be repaid. Many schools use information provided by the FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for need-based scholarships. Even if a student does not qualify for a need-based grant from the federal government, they may be eligible for a need-based scholarship from their school. In addition to need-based grants, the FAFSA also opens the door to federal student loans, which tend to have lower interest rates than private student loan options. Students can complete the FAFSA at fafsa.gov.
3. Work part-time
Getting an on-campus job is one of the first steps students should take when they start college. Most schools recommend that students work no more than 15 hours per week to avoid conflicting with their academic studies. Working part-time has many benefits beyond extra income. Working can help students learn time management, plus the skills they gain can be added to their resume, which may ultimately help them secure a job after they graduate.
4. Live a frugal lifestyle
Decreasing expenses so students are living within their means can help minimize student loan debt. Utilizing free events on campus, like movie night are a great way to save money. Many events provide food as well as entertainment. Some local stores and restaurants offer discounts for college students with their student ID, so it pays to do some research.
5. Graduate on time
Graduating on time could potentially save students more money than all of the other tips combined. Students who graduate on time can begin earning an income instead of paying for another year of college. Deciding on a major early on can assist with graduating on time. Students who are unsure of their major should visit a major and career exploration office on their campus if available. Students should take advantage of summer classes, online classes and intersession classes to ensure they are enrolled full-time each semester to graduate on time. For other college saving tips, visit moneymoments.com/life-events.