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What is your best advice for minimizing student debt going into college?

I am currently a junior in high school. This is around the time when I am doing more research on colleges and solidifying my list for visits in the coming months and applications in senior year. #GivingisCaring #college #university #studentdebt

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John’s Answer

EARN COLLEGE CREDITS IN HIGH SCHOOL
Olivia if your high school offers advanced placement (AP) courses, take as many as you qualify for and be sure to take the AP exam offered at the end of the year. Although the rules and requirements vary from school to school, many colleges offer course credit in exchange for a high score on the AP test. You may not have to take college-level introductory math, science, language, or writing courses if you score above a 4 on your AP tests. Depending on how many exams you ace, you might be able to skip an entire semester of general education courses, shaving a considerable amount off of the total cost of your education.

CONSIDER A GAP YEAR
There isn’t any rule that says you have to jump straight from high school to college. While some people believe that a year off reduces the chance you’ll actually go to college, as long as you have the determination, a year off doesn’t have to affect you. In fact, consider applying to your school of choice, but deferring your enrollment, so you know it’s there waiting for you. If you work your butt off and save from the summer after senior year through the next summer, you’d have a nice chunk saved for college to reduce the amount of loans you’ll need to take on. Plus, it could also give you time to think about what you want to major in so you’re not bouncing around wasting time and even more money. To stay on track, you can still meet with an advisor and start thinking about what classes you’ll take.

LOOK HIGH AND LOW FOR SCHOLARSHIPS
You’re not limited to the scholarships offered by the schools you apply to. Many organizations — such as nonprofit volunteer clubs, religious organizations, and civic groups — offer scholarships to outstanding students or students who meet certain criteria. Check with your bank or credit union, your parents’ employers, and organizations dedicated to the field or industry you’re interested in studying. Start with a simple Google search, by visiting a financial aid officer at the colleges you’ve applied to, or by speaking with your high school guidance counselor.

RETHINK YOUR COLLEGE CHOICES
You might dream of attending a pricey Ivy League school, but you may not be able to cover the costs without taking on a lot of loans. If that’s the case, it may be worth reconsidering your choice of school. Getting a degree from an Ivy League school might have some clout, but you have to ask yourself whether getting a designer degree is worth falling deep into debt.
• COMMUNITY COLLEGE TRANSFER – Community colleges offer an affordable way to start your college career. You can attend a local community college for a year or two and then transfer to the college of your dreams, obtaining a high-end college degree at a major discount. Just make sure all the credits you’ve earned are transferable from the community college to the college you want to attend.
• LOCAL STATE COLLEGES – Public universities and colleges tend to be more affordable than private schools because they receive financial support from their state government. If you go to a public school in the state in which you live, you’ll likely pay less than if you attend a private school or out-of-state institution.

25% SUMMER SAVINGS
You can get your degree finished in three years by taking more courses than the normal 12 credits or taking summer courses, that will save you money. Most four-year institutions require students to complete 120 credit hours — approximately 15 credits per semester — to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Students who take just one extra course per year, either during summer school or on top of a regular course load, you'll graduate a full semester early, which translates to an average savings of more than $10,000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. You may miss out on some fun senior year, and it will mean more work — if the extra course load is too much to keep up with, it’s not worth sacrificing your academic record. But if you feel like you’ve gotten everything you need to from your college experience, there’s no sense in paying full tuition for another semester just to wrap up some core requirements if you can get them out of the way early.

Hope this helps Olivia
Thank you comment icon Thank You Sylvia. “Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.” – Erma Bombeck John Frick
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Kevin’s Answer

Hi - To minimize student debt, I would consider taking summer classes at the local community college. I took one extra class every summer at my local community college and allowed me to graduate in 3-3.5 years.

Also, I worked a part-time job and used any summer internship money to pay down any student debt that you can. Some federal debt does not accumulate interest till AFTER you graduate. Any payments you make while in school (even if $100 dollars) will go towards the principal.
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Eric’s Answer

Olivia,

That is an excellent question and you have received some excellent advice thus far. The only thing I will add is to have a solid plan regarding how college will fit into your long term career goals. Do you know what career you want? Does it require a college degree or will a trade school suffice? Will you need a master's degree or doctorate to better your chances of achieving your goals? What are the costs associated with each of those steps? If your path isn't clear when you start college then I highly recommend starting with a community college where you will not be burdened with as high of a cost while you figure out what career path to choose.

All the best,

Eric
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Sumit’s Answer

Hi Olivia, one of the best way is to get scholarships, more the merrier. Many colleges offer need based and merit based scholarships and that really reduces a lot of financial burden. Since you are junior in high school, I suggest you to start thinking about ways to make your college application stronger which will really help you get the scholarships.

The reason I am suggesting this is from personal experience. I graduated in 2019 with $0 in debt just because of this. I had scholarship that covered tuition and fees and I worked on campus and did summer internships which covered rest of my expenses.

Other than this, my recommendation is to do a really good financial planning. Keep track of all your expenses and try to reduce unnecessary ones.
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Sunny’s Answer

Hi Olivia,

I would like to echo on most of these answers. It is very important to utilize the work-study program at school. Work-study programs are usually teaching assistant or tutor jobs on campus and you can add this experience to your resume as well. Also, it helps you earn scholarships if you keep good grades during semesters. Plus, I would like to recommend to calculate the pay for on-campus jobs and scholarships to see if they can actually cover your tuition. If the tuition is higher than the pay from these jobs, you might want to consider scholarships outside of school and extra internships to at least make a breakeven point.

Good luck!
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Jillian’s Answer

Hi there! It is so smart of you to be considering student loan debt at this time! After 12 years of making payments, I actually just paid off my student loan 2 months ago :praise:
There are a few things I recommend:
A. Consider going to a less-expensive local/ state school for the first 2 years of college. If you know what larger University/college you want to get your degree from, you can verify first that they will accept your credits from a less expensive school.
B. Scholarships & grants! Start the search early & apply often. There are so many different ones out there, you will be shocked!
C. Apply for work-study at your college. The school will actually hire you to work for them while they help pay your expenses.
D. Apply to budget-friendly schools. There were several schools on my wishlist that had very high tuition & room/board costs. I had to make the decision that without scholarships & grants to cover large portions of the bill, it just didn't make sense for me to go there.

Best of luck to you!
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Mark’s Answer

Take AP classes.

Spend a lot of time researching available scholarships and focus on chasing those. People often think of winning one "full ride" scholarship, but in reality you can make good progress with a lot of little scholarships, but you need to do research to find out what's available. Sometimes your parents credit union might offer scholarships, or you might find that the local golf team has scholarships. Churches have scholarships. The people that get these little scholarships are the people that applied for them and knew of their existence. It can take a lot of time but it's worth it. If you get very good grades you'll find many institutions will give you at least some form of scholarship just to get you to go to their school. A good SAT or ACT score is important for this, so start studying and taking practices tests early.

Start saving now (or ask your parents to if they can).

Don't be afraid to go to a less expensive school for the first year or two, like a community college. The first year or so of college tends to be in very large classes that aren't very specialized. It's okay to do that at a place that isn't your "dream school".
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Bob’s Answer

Hi Olivia,

You have received great advice from everyone. If you think you are able to obtain a significant scholarship you can widen your search to consider private schools. Living a home can reduce expenses, if there is a local option. Also, while at school you can look for part time work. When schools go back to onsite learning working in the cafeteria, becoming a residence assistant in a dorm when you become eligible, or finding other part time employment can reduce your debt while going to school.

Also, if you have an interest in a branch of the military, and my have an opportunity to perform a role of interest within that branch, please consider exploring an ROTC scholarship. There are minimum requirement to be accepted, and then you would be required to work for that branch of the military for a period of time after graduating. This option is not for everyone, but this could enable you to graduate debt free, and enable you to enter the job market x years after graduating with some significant work experience and a great network.
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Jodi’s Answer

Hi, Olivia. Great question. And those who answered previously also offered very good advice.

Community colleges really save you lots of money. Take courses there in high school as a dual-credit or dual-enrollment student, too. Even if you don’t start at a community college, you can take classes there in the summers.

Also, when it’s time to decide on a school look closely at the scholarship offer you get from the college. A bigger scholarship from the college doesn’t mean it’s the cheapest option.

Say you get a scholarship for $15,000 for the first year from “College A” — a place you really like. The yearly tuition is $35,000. You still need to pay $20,000. And tuition is only the cost of classes and not housing, food, or books.

But another school, “College B,” is also nice and gives you a scholarship for $10,000. It’s a smaller scholarship so you may think they want you less. Not true. The tuition is $25,000 a year. That means your cost is $15,000.

“College B” is less than “College A” even though the scholarship was bigger at “College A.”

Think of a scholarship as a discount. That’s how people who work at colleges think about scholarships. Discounts.

Still work hard and get good high school grades. If so, you’ll earn a good college discount!
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Kaitlin’s Answer

There are so many great points here but I wanted to add a few notes. Since you are still in high school a big focus right now would be getting scholarships. These can come from anywhere and do not at all have to be from the school you choose. There are scholarships for all kinds of things - some are big some are small and they will all help you avoid student debt. First check your local opportunities. Many communities have scholarships they give out each year for students graduating. A good place to ask about this would be the community foundation in your area, perhaps the county council would also be a good resources for local scholarship opportunities. Additionally, your parents or close relatives may work for a company that provides annual scholarships so they may be able to find out about that.

At the end of the day the more you apply for the more you are likely to win! My bestfriend in college won over $11,000 just in local scholarships to put toward her freshman year. That is $11k she didn't have to take out in loans so every little bit helps!

Kaitlin recommends the following next steps:

https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarships-by-grade-level/high-school-scholarships/
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Gloria’s Answer

Hi Olivia,

I would recommend going to an in-state college or a community college for your core college credits, before going on to a bigger and potentially more expensive college. Your challenge here would be to think about where you might go after the first two years. You want to make sure that the credits that you earn locally will transfer to a university you might be interested in. You can lose a lot of money if you don't check the transfer policy of the school you eventually wish to graduate from.

Even before that, if you can earn college credit in high school that is going to save you a lot of money since earning those college credits are free. My niece changed schools in high school for that opportunity. Changing to a different high school can cause transportation problems as they are not always nearby. Some of the courses are also actually college level courses so they are going to feel very hard. My niece also struggled in the beginning being a 10th grader going to school with people 5 to 10 years older than her, or more. But it also made going to actual college easier for her in the long run. She was able to move out of state and she already knew what college was going to be like. She graduated in three years and saved a whole year of college tuition.

Gloria
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Yasemin’s Answer

Hi Olivia! This is a great question and amazing that you are being responsible to start seeking this information now. Personally I would just be careful with my spending, try to deter from taking out loans and also possibly find a part time job as long as it doesn't affect your coursework/grades. It is important to be mindful of what you are spending especially in college with much freedom, it may be nice to enjoy dinner with friends and go out but debt can accrue. Therefore a rule of thumb should be to ask yourself " Do I have the funds for this?" If you feel like you don't and you may have to put it on your card without being able to pay back on time-especially with interest accruing- then it's best to stay home/on campus. Loans are basically many if not all students rites of passage in college, many students will take out loans however there are ways to be smart about them. I would first of all, especially since you are approaching university age, check out FAFSA.ed.gov to start obtaining information about financial aid. You may qualify for grants and even a refund check as well- without applying for FAFSA it is hard to know. However, you may also have to take out loans; I would suggest to take out Federal Loans first, use them all up if needed before going into private loans. If federal loans are needed then take out Subsidized Federal loans first because these loans do not build up interest as long as you are in school at least half-time. If you do take out Unsubsidized after which do build up on interest even though you are in school, pay the interest. That way it will decrease and not be a huge amount after graduation. If you take out 5,000 for example but always pay the interest then your loan will be 5,000- federal loans also don't accrue too much interest like private loans that's why they are the best option.

When you apply for FAFSA you may obtain work-study, this will be a part time job on campus where you will receive a paycheck ; if you can get some type of money from a part time job especially on campus you can help in paying some bills and buying things for yourself without putting yourself too much in debt.On campus jobs are usually better than off campus because commute is easier and you can also have an easier time with them since you are a student. It still is responsibility but in a way you are in school and can even have the opportunity to complete your schoolwork while working as well. For example, I was a front desk assistant and a tutor as well and sometimes we would have very quiet days and until a student came or I needed to help someone, I was usually completing my work for my classes. Lastly, the financial aid office is also helpful, there are many professionals there ready to talk to students and help them out. Definitely visit them and check out their resources. If you are careful though and self-conscious about debt then it won't build up too much, the key is to always have it in the back of your mind!

Best of luck!
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