One of the biggest problems college students face today is paying for school. Student loans are helpful, but it is possible to avoid taking out student loans for school.

I took out about $21,000 of student loan debt, and my husband took out a little over $16,000. While these balances are much lower than the national average of $40,000, our debt was still a source of stress and held us back from reaching certain financial goals. 

Student loan debt can definitely deter you from getting ahead financially. If I had to give my younger self-advice or advise an incoming college student, I would say to try to avoid taking out student loans or at least reduce the amount of student loan debt you take on.

Here are a few ways to do this.  

Start Saving Up For College Early

This is one of the best ways to avoid taking out student loans for school. Your parents can start saving for you in advance, or you can even start saving up yourself.

Research different schools based on your degree program of choice to get an idea of how much tuition may cost. Then, create a savings plan.

This may result in you starting college later than you would have wanted to, but it may be worth it if you finish school debt free.

Some people take a year or two off from college to travel and explore, but you can take time off to stash up enough money for tuition and related expenses.

If you’re a parent, you can start saving for your child’s college education with a 529 account or invest some money conservatively in a brokerage account.

You could also ask your teen to save some money from their paychecks to help cover the costs of college. This may not sound like a lot, but it does add up.

If your teen starts working at 14 or 15-years old and doesn’t attend college until 19, they’ll have at least 4-5 years of savings and they can work during the summer season to increase their savings rate.

I remember the summer of my junior year in college I had an internship that paid $13 per hour. I wish I would have set that money aside for college, but I blew it all on frivolous wants I can’t even remember to this day.

Consider an Affordable In-State University or Start with Community College

I wanted to start college at a university, but my mom convinced me to go to community college first. I was pretty upset about it at first, but today I’m so grateful to have made that decision.

During my first two years of college, I had to take general education classes for the most part. I would have had to do this whether I was at a big university or a community college. Community college is much cheaper so it made more sense to take my general classes there to save money and then transfer to a bigger university.

Sometimes community colleges even offer full scholarships for students, but the tuition is much smaller to budget for either way. So. if you are cash flowing your college degree, you’ll stretch your budget by staying local.

It’s the same thing with in-state universities. State residents receive cheaper tuition rates than out-of-state students. If you can find a university that meets your needs in your state, you can continue to lower your costs.

Apply For Financial Aid

Financial aid is something you should apply for whether you think you’ll qualify or not. If you’re not a student aid expert, you won’t know if you might be eligible for grants and other benefits.

Be sure to go to FAFSA.ed.gov each year and fill out a FAFSA. It only takes a few minutes but there’s a deadline to fill out your application so make sure you turn in everything you need beforehand.

If you qualify for financial aid, you’ll have access to federal student loans (which was way better than private loans in my opinion), but also grants, vouchers, and work-study opportunities.

Grants are great because you don’t have to pay them back. As of 2018, the maximum Pell Grant amount is $6,095. Those funds could help lower your out-of-pocket costs.

Apply For Scholarships

One of the reasons why many students take out loans in the first place is because they don’t believe they’d qualify for other funding of aid like scholarships.

Unlike financial aid, there are scholarship opportunities for a wide variety of recipients regardless of your ethnicity or income level. Some scholarships may be geared toward people in specific situations or require you to have a certain GPA. However, I’ve received scholarships where I didn’t need to meet income or other strict requirements to apply.

Check with the scholarship office at your school to see if there are any opportunities specifically for your field of study. You can even branch out and search for private scholarships or consider athletic scholarships if you play any sports.

Some of the best scholarship search sites include FastWeb.com, College Board, Scholarships.com, Niche.com, and Scholarship Monkey. A great app to search is Scholly.

Most applications will require an essay of some sort, but that’s a simple way to earn thousands of dollars.

I have a friend who doesn’t qualify for financial aid and can’t take out student loans but has earned scholarships as her main method of paying for college tuition.

She’s even enrolling in law school and using scholarship funds to pay for tuition in full.

Work Your Way Through College

This is always an option for most students. You can pay for the cost of college by maintaining a part-time job during school. Or, you can even work full time and attend school part-time.

A part-time course load may keep you in school longer, but it will be cheaper and allow you to pay for school as you go.

In college, I worked part-time and had a paid internship as well at one point. I also side hustled minimally and wish I would have done more.

College students have busy schedules, but there are so many things you can do during your spare time to make extra money. You could blog, be a freelance writer, test websites, become a product demonstrator, edit videos, get into direct sales, sell items on eBay or Amazon, etc.

If you’re going to set a goal to make extra money to help you avoid taking out student loans, determine how much you want to earn each month to break down the goal.

College seems like it gets more and more expensive each year. It’s important to have a clear understanding of why you want to go to college and what you want to study before you enroll.

This will help you make sure you get a positive return on your investment. Also, realize that you don’t have view student loan debt as a first option. It should be a last resort.

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