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College Without Debt? It IS Possible!

The first question even before asking how to pay for college is to determine if college is right for you at all. When looking into where to attend college realize that the degree is not the goal. The goal is to have a successful life and career as an adult and whether or not a college degree is even necessary to achieve that goal. The student should research career options and then reverse engineer what he or she will need to get to where he or she wants to go. There are many options from apprenticeships and trade schools to on-line schools or four-year colleges and they all come with a wide variance of price tags. Depending on one’s career choice one path is not better than another. However, if the student decides that a degree is what he or she wants or needs, below are ways to graduate with limited to no debt. Ways to limit college debt while you are still in high school:
  1. Take advanced college courses (AP) in high school and test out of college credits. Each test passed can earn 3 college credits, totaling up to $1500 or more in savings!
  2. Study to get the highest SAT and ACT scores that you can. If you can afford to take an SAT prep course it will be well worth the money! It has been estimated that for every 10 points of increase in score earned on the test the student can save thousands of dollars through scholarships. Some colleges will give the student a full-ride if he or she has a 3.5 GPA and an SAT of 1900 or greater.
  3. If you can’t afford the prep course, ask at the library for a book that provides practice tests. For less than $20 you can purchase an SAT prep book like The Official SAT Study Guide published by The College Board.
  4. Plan to apply early to the college(s) of your choice. Ask if the application fee will be waived if you apply before a certain date. Some colleges offer this, some don’t.
  5. Apply early for Financial Aid. The form is called FAFSA and stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Federal grant money runs out each year. Be sure to go to the correct website: https://fafsa.ed.gov/. There are many other sites out there that will charge you money to submit the form. Don’t use them. It must be the government site.
  6. Don’t pay someone to help you fill out the FAFSA form. Decide on a college that you may want to attend and call and ask the college advisor there to walk you through it for no charge. This tip alone will save you about $1500, depending on the consultant you might ask.
Other ways to limit college debt:
  1. Take a year off between high school and college to work and save money for college. Incoming freshman can earn up to $7200 before they are assessed even one penny of income when the college determines how much the student will receive in Financial Aid packages.
  2. Take the CLEP (clep.CollegeBoard.org) tests to satisfy college credits. Just make sure your college will accept these before you take them. Not all colleges do. Many of my students CLEP tested out of 18 credits or more saving thousands of dollars.
  3. Free college is offered through military schools like the Air Force Academy, if you can qualify to go there. Once you complete your degree you will be required to give 6 years of service to the military, but you will have your Bachelor’s degree at no cost.
  4. Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH)– awards up to $4000/year to students who intend to teach full time in a high need area. Student must teach four years within eight years of graduating.
  5. Head Start, Peace Corps, VISTA are all volunteer programs that may qualify a student to clear some or all of their Federal loans in exchange for a determined number of years of service.
  6. AmeriCorps offers education grants for those who work for them for a time.
  7. Always fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Aid Student) whether you intend to take advantage of the student loans or not. This form will determine your eligibility for grants and scholarships as well as loans.
  8. Grants and scholarships– These never need to be repaid, unless you drop your courses mid-term. If you drop a course after the withdrawal deadline specified by your school you may lose your entire funding for that semester, but you will still owe for all the courses.  Once you start a semester, be sure to complete it!
  9. Federal Pell Grant – awarded by the government based on need. If a student qualifies, he or she will receive up to $5,920/year. This does not need to be repaid.
  10. Federal Work-Study – Always check the “yes” box for this program when applying for FAFSA. The student is not required to take a job that is offered to him, but if he does not say “yes” on the form he will not be eligible to take one that he would like. This will allow the student to work a part time job on campus for minimum wage or slightly higher. The job schedule will work around the student’s class schedule. These wages do not count as part of the student’s income when figuring Financial Aid packages.
  11. If parents are saving money for their student’s education they should not put it in the child’s name. Student assets are assessed at a higher rate than their parents are in determining Financial Aid loans and Pell Grants.
  12. Do not set up trusts or inheritance for the student. Again, this asset will be assessed at a high rate. Better choice: send payments directly to the college on behalf of the student.
  13. Look into the local community college. Live at home, work and pay as you go. Complete your Associates Degree in two years or less. This will transfer all 60 credits into a four-year school (which has a higher tuition) when you are ready to complete your Bachelor’s degree.
  14. Do NOT pay tuition on a credit card, ever! Federal Student loans offer a much lower interest rate over the long term. Also, Federal Subsidized loans do not accrue interest as long as the student is still in college.
  15. Go to a state school where you have established residency. This will give you a significantly lower tuition rate than what is charged to non-residents. This can save you $20,000 or more each year!
  16. Live at home and commute. The savings on room and board will be substantial, but heed this warning, the student will not make the kind of connections or friends that he or she would if he or she were on campus. This can impact his or her decision to complete the degree at all.
  17. Take the maximum number of courses allowed each semester to graduate in 3 years. The tuition cost is usually the same whether you take 12 credits (full-time student) or up to 18 credits. If you graduate early it will save you a whole year of tuition and get you into the work force faster.
  18. If you do sports and were not recruited for the college team, talk with the athletic department anyway. If they need someone on a particular team and you are athletic enough to do it, you may receive a partial scholarship to play.
  19. Audition for the drama department. Or see if you can become part of the editorial staff for the school newspaper. Sometimes there are partial scholarships attached to being part of one of those programs. Ask.
  20. Many colleges offer partial scholarships to children of alumni. Have the student look into the college where his parents attended.
  21. Some Christian colleges offer partial scholarships to children of pastors.
  22. Students whose parents never graduated college (called first generation students,) are eligible for special Financial Aid. On the FAFSA form be sure to list high school for their education even if they attended some college, but did not graduate.
Graduating college with no debt sounds like a worthy target, but it may not be the best goal. The decision of whether or not to pursue a degree depends on what the student intends to do for a career when he or she graduates. If the student intends to be a doctor for example, the degree is absolutely necessary and there will be debt! Even so, some of these tips will help to whittle down loan debt when that final paper of accomplishment is framed and displayed on the wall. To your future, Lindy Schneider America’s College AdvisorPosted in Uncategorized

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