Would you like to graduate college without crippling debt? Instead of paying off an average of $37,172 after graduation or trying to relieve your debt on the game show Paid Off, you can strategize to discover better ways to finance your education.
The first step to graduating college debt-free is cutting the overall cost. Instead of waiting until after college is over, many students are taking the preventative approach by borrowing less in the first place. This can save you from returning student loans if you don’t end up needing them.
Let’s review four ways to make college more affordable.
1. Choose the best financial aid package
College tuition costs can vary widely, as can financial aid packages that are offered. One of the best ways to cut the cost of college is to choose a school that has low tuition and is offering a large financial package.
Be sure your financial aid package is considering funds from federal and state government sources, institutional grants, and private scholarships.
While FAFSA applications are a critical first step, there are also skill-based funding opportunities such as sports scholarships and academic scholarships for students who have good grades. Keep in mind that to renew these scholarships each year, you’ll likely need to fulfill certain requirements, such as maintaining a minimum GPA.
To help you compare the true cost of each admission offer, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a financial aid comparison tool that calculates your projected debt at graduation. You can then use Student Loan Hero’s student loan calculators to compare repayment options. For example, you may want to use the deferment calculator if you plan to attend grad school right after your undergrad degree.
2. Reduce housing costs
Housing costs should be a major consideration. In some cases, it can influence your decision on where to attend college. For example, in high-priced real estate markets such as New York City, college students typically only have a choice between high-priced college housing and expensive off-campus apartments.
However, when Trulia looked at real estate markets across the country, it found that living off-campus could save students $219 per month, on average. Additionally, your housing costs could be reduced further by getting a roommate. For example, splitting a $1,200 apartment three ways instead of two would save you $200 each month.
Living with family is another way to save, and recent data from Sallie Mae shows that 37% of students are doing it. The downsides are a commute and FOMO, but you’ll also be able to keep more money in your pocket.
Creative housing options are also starting to sprout. At New York University, a new program dubbed “Grandma’s spare room” pairs college students with fixed-income seniors who have a spare bedroom. This initiative is projected to save students about 50% off dorm housing rates.
3. Lower daily expenses
Even after you’ve reduced the costs of tuition and housing, you could still end up wondering where your money goes each month. To get a handle on your daily expenses, use budgeting apps to to review your purchases, then you can learn where there’s opportunity to lower your spending. For example, you may be willing to cut back on sports game tickets, but those trips to the café for a latte may be non-negotiable.
If you notice you’re spending a lot of money eating out, a key way to save is to make meals at home rather than eating at the dining hall. This could save you 45 to 69%on food costs, according to our analysis.
4. Increase your course load
A school’s recommended course load is typically the optimal number of classes for student success. However, you may want to consider taking a heavy course load so you can graduate ahead of schedule. By taking 18 credits each semester instead of the typical 15, you could graduate in three and a half years instead of the usual four. While your costs per credit will still be the same, you’ll have one fewer semester of fees and auxiliary expenses to pay.
Keep in mind that taking more classes each semester can put an additional strain on your time, especially if you’re working or have other responsibilities. Plus, it’s important to keep your GPA up so you still qualify for your scholarships.
To deal with the time constraints and optimize study sessions, many students are turning to OneClass to access shared class notes and study guides. Unlimited platform access can cost as little as $9.95 per month, and downloading materials that have been shared by your classmates can save you hours of time. The platform is so effective that more than 90 percent of OneClass’ 2.2 million users have improved by at least one letter grade.
Learn how OneClass‘ shared study guides and class notes can help you get better grades so you can qualify for more scholarships.
This article was written by Jack Tai, CEO and Co-Founder of OneClass.