Going to college is a major step in life and is the culmination of years of hard work. For many students, attending college is a highly anticipated lifelong dream, while others view it as an required next step up the educational ladder on the way to a higher degree.  However a student might view college, few see it for what it truly is: an INVESTMENT.

Higher education represents a tremendous investment of time and money into your future-self; both in terms of earning power, and personal and intellectual growth.  Like any investment, a careful analysis of the costs involved is important in order to make an informed decision.  

Even though the costs associated with a college education are substantial, as a student, you have a significant degree of control over what your final tab will be when you leave college.  You can control your costs by making the most of the resources available to you. Here are 8 ideas that will help you afford college, and avoid graduating under a mountain of student debt:

1) CHOOSE YOUR SCHOOL WISELY

It is so easy to get caught up in the race to get into the “best” possible school, when “best” often means a private school with name recognition.  And big-name private schools tend to come with a hefty price tag.

The College Board reports that, for the 2017-2018 school year, the average tuition at a private college was $34,740, and only $9,970 for a resident at a state college.  And remember, these figures are only for tuition, not including room and board, fees, and books etc. Over the course of four years, the difference in the tuition fees alone is almost $100,000!  That should be a truly scary number for any student entering college.

2) CONSIDER STARTING AT A COMMUNITY COLLEGE  

Attending community college for a couple of years and getting great grades is an excellent way to set yourself up to transfer to, and graduate from, a four-year college of your choice.  

Not only will this strategy save you and your family a ton of money, but really strutting your stuff at community college can do wonders to strengthen your academic record if your performance in high school was not the best.  It will also set you up nicely to be a good candidate for scholarships at a four-year college when you are ready to transfer.

3) GET EVERY PENNY YOU CAN FROM YOUR SCHOOL  

Most colleges have loads of money to give away in the form of grants and scholarships.  While grants are usually given based on financial need, scholarships are often based on merit, so make sure you really apply yourself in the years of school before going to college.  

Don’t assume that you’re automatically being considered for all available scholarships; contact your school and ask for a list of available scholarships.  If you qualify for some scholarships, apply for them! Never leave free money on the table.

4) GET EVERY PENNY YOU CAN FROM EVERYONE ELSE TOO!

You would not believe how many private scholarships there are out there.  All you have to do is find them, and apply. You will often have to write a personal statement in the application process, which will take some time, but the reward can be very substantial.  

You can search available scholarships online.  Two websites with an abundance of listed scholarships are Collegescholarships.com and Collegescholarships.org.  Take a look and apply. You will only get the money if you get out there and apply for it.

And remember, don’t stop looking for scholarships after you start college, you can, and should be applying for them throughout your years of college. There is a LOT of money out there, don’t let it slip through your fingers.

5) AVOID PRIVATE LOANS  

Private student loans (as opposed to federal student loans) should be avoided at all costs.  They typically come with an interest rate that is substantially higher than the federal loans, and the repayment plans are less flexible.  

High interest rate private loans cause a lot of financial pain once you get out of school, so look for alternative loans.  One option is to borrow money from family if they are able to lend it to you. Even though it can be uncomfortable to ask for money, getting a personal loan from a family member is overwhelmingly preferable to taking out a private loan.

6) CONSIDER LIVING OFF CAMPUS  

If your college is close enough to home, living with your family and commuting to school will save you a ton of money, about $10,000-$12,000 a year at most colleges.  This is a huge savings that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Sure, living with Mom and Dad during college isn’t the most exciting sounding situation, but when your student loans come due, you’ll be very happy you did it.  Then you get the chance to laugh at all of your friends who are buried in debt because they were living large during college.

7) WORK PART TIME   

Get yourself set up with a job while you’re in college so you can earn some extra money.  You can look into the work-study program at your school. That program is administered in conjunction with financial aid and requires a FAFSA application in order to qualify.  

Alternatively you can look into tutoring students from a local high school or middle school.  This type of tutoring can pay very well and be a lucrative option for a college student. Quadjobs.com and wayup.com are good employment resources for college students.  

8) AVOID THE BOOKSTORE WHENEVER YOU CAN

Textbooks in the college bookstore are way, way too expensive.  Bypass buying textbooks altogether by using the textbooks available in your school’s library.  You may not know it, but college libraries typically have most of the required textbooks on reserve for you to use in the library.  

If you don’t want to study in the library all of the time, you can usually find a older edition of the textbook you want that can be checked out of the library.  You just have to renew the book a couple of times and you’ve got yourself a perfectly good textbook for the whole semester…absolutely free.

Don’t forget to at least try searching the internet for a free pdf version of your textbook.  There are plenty of textbooks online for free, so take a look and see if your textbook is one of them.

CONCLUSION

College is a big financial step for you and your family and it can definitely seem overwhelming.  But if you take some deliberate action to control your cost, you can make it much more manageable.  Don’t let the costs get out of control.  Starting out with the 8 steps listed in this article will help you get on the right track so you can afford college.

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