How Can I Avoid Student Debt?

Strategies to avoid student debt have now usurped first place as the primary concern many students have while attaining higher education. While only a decade ago the biggest concerns might have been study habit strategies to make an A in calculus or which teachers are best for upper-level history courses, the crushing education debt load carried by the Millennial generation constitutes an additional and unmitigated financial burden. In the article below, we’ll offer a few ways to avoid student debt, or reduce it substantially, so you can graduate with your sights set on a bright future.

First, the Traditional Wisdom

Most financial experts advise against taking on loans you don’t absolutely need. To do this, there are several traditional places to cut costs. First, can you devote a portion of your income to your tuition? If not, the sage wisdom follows that you may wish to choose a less expensive institution. While the cost of higher education has inflated more than seems humanly possible since the 1960s, many cheaper state institutions offer a competitive education and will award you with a viable degree. If you choose to remain in-state, you’ll also receive a tuition reduction for established residency. When exploring schools in other states, consider the possibility of a gap year between graduating high school and attending a program to which you’ve been accepted. Many institutions offer deferment, or you can reapply after having lived and worked in state, which will allow you to apply as a resident.

Scholarships, Grants, and Work Study Programs

Another way you can avoid student debt is by applying for a wide array of scholarships and grants. Many awards target specific groups of students—minorities, individuals with particular disabilities or even people whose families have an affiliation with interest groups. The beauty of scholarships is that there are many, both national and local, that are available to you, no matter what your background or affiliations may be.

What may be problematic for some students is the personal effort that often goes with applying for scholarships. This isn’t something you can just toss off during the morning hours two weeks before school starts. It requires some careful planning because many giving funds have deadlines and stipulate both essays and letters of reference. For seniors in high school, this should present a relatively easy-to-follow timeline. Before graduation, when you’ve received your acceptance letters to one or more universities, search for scholarships. These can be state-specific or national, tailored to a particular ethnic or ability group or general. If you already know what major you wish to pursue, you can even search for discipline-specific funding.

Grants and Work Study are two other ways to mitigate the cost of college. Sallie Mae, the government entity that administers subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, has a helpful grant information page that explains how they work. The FAFSA automatically applies general grants for which you are qualified. However, some funds, such as those bound to TEACH grants and Veteran grants, require a bit more legwork from the individual. Work Study is a program that allows you to work for a limited wage and partial tuition simultaneously. It varies from university to university but is an option in every publicly funded school.

While attending even a state institution with in-state tuition costs can seem overwhelming, most individuals can do so without taking on loans. Applying for scholarships and grants, selecting a college that is more affordable in the long term, and utilizing the tools made available to every student (such as the FAFSA and Work Study programs) can render the costs of college far easier to bear. Managing your future and finding ways to avoid student debt can also serve as the best form of stress relief, especially when final exams approach.

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