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Ah, student loans, how I loathe you. I loathe what you've done to every generation of college student. I loathe how easy it is to sign up for you, how much you cost, and how long it takes to pay you off. Actually, I feel that way about all loans, but that's another story. :)
If you are planning to go to college, there are a few things you should know that will prepare you for it financially! I went to a public University and made certain decisions, starting in high school the year before going, that contributed to my ability to graduate with a Bachelor of the Arts degree without ever ONCE signing for a student loan.
I am astounded to learn that a lot of people just go to college, sign the papers for their loans without ever once considering the implications. A standard Federal Subsidized Loan, while a better option than regular student loans, still has you paying 13 percent interest six months after you graduate.
1. College is expensive.
This shouldn't come as a shock to you as we learn practically from birth how expensive college is. If you aren't aware just how expensive, an average public University is between $20-30k/year, while private universities run between $40-75k/year. Of course, two year schools are cheaper, running about $5-15k/year.
Now you have some numbers. A four year degree from a public school will cost $80-120k; a four year degree from a private school will be $160-300k; a two year degree from a vocational, community, or technical school will be $10-30k total.
Mentally prepare yourself for this cost. Now that you have the numbers, you can work on how you're going to pay for these costs out of pocket.
2. Start saving NOW.
I am passionate about having parents get their kids to start saving the money they earn for college as soon as they start earning it.
My husband's family taught him that 50% of the money he earns goes into savings, and he can use the rest of it however he wishes. It taught him extremely good financial principles, and he was actually able to get three two year AA/AAS degrees, as well as a Bachelor four year degree debt-free. It was because of these financial principles he learned as a child that he was able to be debt-free as an adult with four college degrees.
If you have some time before you will be starting college, try to save as much of the money you make as you can, whether from a part time job, babysitting gig, lawn mowing work, whatever it is you do to hustle some cash, save it. This money will be extremely helpful to pay cash when you go to college.
3. Choosing your program and where to go: Uni, Community or VoTech
If you're planning to be a lawyer or doctor or anything that takes some serious schooling from Ivy league schools for six+ years, don't expect to be able to go completely debt-free. It would be amazing, and maybe you can break the mold, but you can still apply these ideas to minimize the amount of debt you undertake overall.
If you can't decide what you want to go to school for, I highly recommend going to a community college for a two year AA degree. It's so, so much cheaper and you'll have an entire degree that will transfer to a university once you decide the program you want to enter.
4. Apply for FAFSA.
Even if your parents make decent money, it's still good to apply for FAFSA. Why? Because FAFSA gets you free money in the form of grants, and if you don't qualify for their grants, you still might qualify for subsidized federal loans.
Now, I'm against student loans and hopefully you'll be able to use these techniques to not need these loans entirely, but on the off chance you do need them, it's good to have the option.
Subsidized federal loans you won't have to make payments on until six months after your schooling ends, and they have a better interest rate.
5. Apply for scholarships.
I love scholarships. I worked my butt off senior year to qualify and receive as many scholarships as I could so that at least my first year of school would be covered by scholarships.
There are websites that let you apply to hundreds of scholarships. These are good. I personally have never received a scholarship this way, but I know people who have.
Check out the school you've chosen's website about the scholarships they offer new students and see if you qualify to apply for any of those.
Check locally! Go into banks, local businesses, and big businesses near you and personally ask if they have any scholarships and what the requirements are. We had a scholarship program at my high school that helped us find local scholarships, but it doesn't hurt to do some detective work on your own.
6. Budget-friendly choices: Living on Campus, Dining Hall Options
Some campuses require freshmen to live on campus and pay for the dining hall, but if you aren't a freshman or your college doesn't require it, see if you can rent an apartment off campus for cheaper than the dorms and dining hall costs.
7. Extra Credits
My college had a credit band where it cost the same to take 12-20 credits per semester. This meant you could take 20 credits for the same price as 12—that's like getting eight credits free! Those eight credits could get you closer to your degree faster!
If you can finish your degree in less than four years, you save $5-75k off your total school bill. I got my four year degree in three 1/2 years at a public university, so I saved roughly $13,000.
8. Part-Time or Full-Time?
I generally don't like going to school part time because you usually don't get a super good deal overall. Either tuition is higher per credit or there's extra fees or whatever the deal may be.
However, if you are in the workforce, have a good paying job, and keeping that job means being able to pay for your schooling in cash, then by all means do it! Plus you're building your resume while gaining work experience
As I said in number two, start saving for college. In order to do that, you will need to bring in an income somehow. Whether it's waiting tables, cashiering at the local grocery store, or driving for Uber, most kids have a job while they attend college. I had about three jobs simultaneously.
Often, working is to help pay the bills, but anything that you don't spend on absolute necessities, try to save. Think about every purchase you make and ask yourself if you really need it. Cup of coffee from the Starbucks on campus or have no student debt once you're done?
That's not to say you can't indulge, but you can make smarter choices. Instead of buying a bunch of overpriced drinks from the bar, buy your alcohol from the liquor store and enjoy at your home with friends. You'll save money and have just as much fun!
Those are all the tips I have, I wish you luck on getting through college without taking out any student loans! You can do it!