“In the 21 years I have been directly involved with college financial aid, I’ve had hundreds of students and parents ask the same question, ‘How do we pay off all the student loans?’ Unfortunately, there is no easy fix. Having student loan debt is like owing money to the IRS. Once caught in the snare, there is no way out. You simply pay and pay for years. Here are 10 ways to help you avoid student loans.”
1) Start Early
Without question, students should begin taking the SAT or ACT in the 7th or 8th grade along with test prep classes to bolster results. With proper direction, even an average student can score well on national achievement tests. When you do, you’ll secure a place in line for merit scholarships and grants.
2) Free College Credits
Students, sign up for Advanced Placement classes every chance you get. Millions of high school students are taking AP exams at the end of their school year. The reason is simple: hundreds of colleges will grant up to a year’s worth of college credit if you have successfully passed four Advanced Placement tests, earning sophomore status on day one.
3) Test Your Knowledge
Recently a student earned 39 credit units as a freshman by taking several CLEP tests. Go online and learn more about the College-Level Examination Program®, CLEP. You can earn college credits for what you already know. Really. You could start college as a junior.
4) Put Together a Spending Plan
This is the key to college survival. Write down all the funds you have for college and compare that to the costs for tuition, food, movies, housing, transportation, pizza parties, books, and so forth. Then the choice is simple: either manage your money or your money will manage you.
5) Shop Around
Apply to schools where your national test scores, scholastic achievements, and grade point average are well above the freshman average. “The trick is to find a school that considers you a star,” wrote Lucy Lazarony at Bankrate.com. Those schools will find a multitude of grants and scholarships for those they seek. In addition, look for alternative ideas such as distant education classes, a college coop program, a tuition free college, an accelerated degree program, a work-study job, or an athletic, music or talent scholarship.
6) Get Schooling for a Fraction
Attend a local community college before transferring to the “big name” university. You may be able to complete the first two years of a four-year degree at a fraction of the cost. Be sure to check with the college or university where you want to transfer regarding their acceptance of your community college classes.
7) Avoid the Credit Card Trap
College bookstores often have tables set up with credit card applications and free gifts. The free gifts are used as a hook to get you to apply for a credit card. Just say, “No thanks.” Avoid the usual debt problems that lead to more and more student loans. The results could mean that you’ll be back living with your parents again after graduation. What good will scholarships and grants in college do if you walk off campus with huge debt.
8) Consider a Private Institution
Many private institutions have more scholarship monies available with fewer restrictions. Hats off to Princeton and Harvard whose executive boards have chosen to draw upon their endowment funds to help reduce excessive student loan debt.
9) Let Uncle Sam Pick up The Tab
Two, three and four-year ROTC scholarships are available at some of the nation’s finest schools including Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame, Virginia, Yale, UCLA, Wheaton, MIT, Cedarville, Grambling, Duke, and many others. If accepted, your tuition, books, and fees are covered plus you’ll earn a monthly stipend to help cover room and board. In addition, high school juniors may be eligible to apply to one of the prestigious military academies.
10) Apply For a Perkins
You may be eligible for the sought-after Federal Perkins service-cancelable loan. Those who qualify may borrow up to $20,000 for undergraduate and $20,000 for graduate school with up to 10 years for repayment at only 5% interest. In most cases, if you enter the field of nursing, teaching, law enforcement or serve in the military, work as a librarian, a speech pathologist, a medical tech, or full time firefighter, 100% of your Perkins Loan plus interest will be cancelled over a period of five years.
By planning ahead, you can achieve graduation success without a millstone of debt strapped around your neck.