One of the best financial habits you can learn is to control the amount of money you borrow in life. This is especially true when you’re first starting out in a career and you don’t really know what your earning potential is going to be yet.
Because college has gotten so very expensive, there aren’t that many people getting through without loans altogether, but it can be done. If you are going to borrow money, don’t borrow more than you think you’ll earn your first year out of college. That will hopefully keep the payments manageable.
Even that level of borrowing will limit you in working toward your other financial goals, so let’s talk about ways you might be able to make it through college without any loans at all.
Check out state programs that help you pay for college. See if your state is on this list put out by NerdWallet or just do a search of your specific state. In my state, which happens to be Florida, you can get help with in-state tuition by meeting certain requirements for GPA, SAT/ACT scores and volunteer hours.
Did you want to go to the Alma Mater of one of your parents? Some schools offer in-state tuition or scholarships to legacy students, so see if that possibility exists for you by doing a little research.
If you’re flexible about where you want to go and you have good grades and test scores, you might get a good offer from a smaller private school looking to fill their seats with top notch students. Look for schools offering the most merit aid.
If you can demonstrate a high level of financial need AND you have high grades and test scores, you’re in luck. There are some institutions that cover 100% of need for all incoming students. This doesn’t mean you’ll get a free ride, but you’ll only be responsible for your EFC or expected family contribution as calculated by your FAFSA application.
Are you interested in joining the military? There are multiple ways you can get help paying for college through military service. These include attending one of the military academies which are free but not easy to get in, joining the ROTC, or enlisting. The military can help with tuition payments, as well as paying off loans in some cases.
If you don’t mind working hard in high school to save money in college, see if you can access a dual enrollment program in your area. Some of these programs will help you finish up to the first two years of college by the time you graduate high school. Paying for 2 years of college is ½ as expensive as 4 (in case you couldn't figure that out yourself). You can also get your college costs down by taking AP courses for college credit and trying to finish college a little earlier that way.
If you’re going to college close to home or close to a family member or friend’s home, you can save a lot of money by living rent-free off campus. Not all schools allow this, but it’s worth checking into. After all, the cost of tuition is usually only about 1/3 or ½ of the overall cost. Housing is a huge part of the college bill.
Speaking of housing, if you can afford to buy a condo or small home in your student’s college town and rent it out to your kid and maybe some of their friends, you can keep the cost of housing down. You may even make money on the deal!
Does the school you want to attend have a robust on-line component? Maybe you can take classes from home for the first year or two and then move on campus for your junior and senior years saving you thousands of dollars in housing costs.
I’ve just listed 10 alternatives that might help you avoid taking out student loans depending on your situation. How many can you think of? Leave your comments below and let me know what I’ve missed!