These days, when most people think of how to pay for college, taking out student loans while in school is at the top of the list.
In fact, 38 million Americans currently have student loan debt, according to Fastweb. And many college students wait until after graduation before they start thinking about how to pay back their student loans.
However, there are ways to keep student loan debt to a minimum and potentially eliminate it altogether, all while earning your degree.
Here are seven different ways college students can lower their debt loads while they’re still in school.
1. Borrow only what you need
Don’t view student loans as free money, because they come at a price. The more money you borrow, the longer you’ll have to work to pay them off.
When determining how to pay for college, start by estimating your total cost of living. That should include your tuition, food, room and board, and other college costs. Then, only take out that amount in student loans.
Even if you’re approved for more than what you need, it doesn’t mean you should take the entire student loan and blow the funds. Only borrow what you need to get a good education and give back the rest.
Consider following these specific steps you can take to return part of your student loan if you’ve borrowed too much.
2. Live like a student
The important thing to remember is why you’re in college in the first place.
You’re there to learn new skills and pursue your chosen career path. You’re not attending college to spend money on unnecessary things, or to be wasteful. Use this period of your life to live like a student.
Opt for a roommate to save money on rent. Cook at home instead of eating out every day. Be frugal whenever possible as you work on how to pay for college. Remind yourself that this is only for a short period of time.
Make the financial sacrifices necessary to stick to a budget and spend within your means. Living like a student now will help you minimize your debt load later. That way, you don’t have to struggle financially once you’re in the real world.
3. Take on freelance work
In addition to lowering your monthly expenses, do what you can to create extra streams of income. Even a few hundred dollars a month can make a huge difference to your student loan debt while in college.
You can take on freelance work and side gigs, in addition to a regular job or full-time class load. These are great ways to pay for college.
As a freelancer, you can take on as much or as little work as you have time for. You can also work with a variety of services like blogging, web designing, photography, you name it.
Brush up on your skills and see what you can offer in exchange for extra income. You can even choose freelance work that helps further your education by getting paid to learn a new skill. or working under a mentor.
4. Pay student loan interest payments
Even though your student loan payments are deferred until you graduate college, it’s still a good idea to pay the interest payments.
Find out whether your loan company offers the option to pay the interest due on your student loans. The small amounts you’re paying while you’re still in school can have a big impact on your student loan balance once you graduate.
Paying the interest will also help reduce the total amount you owe, and keep your balance at a minimum. This will make it easier to afford monthly student loan payments after graduation.
5. Apply for scholarships and grants
Scholarships and grants offer amazing benefits to college students who qualify. You could end up getting a college education for free if you’re approved for multiple ones.
Regardless of what year of college you’re in, you should continuously search and apply for scholarships and grants. It’s free money after all, and you don’t need to pay it back like a student loan. Not a bad strategy when considering how to pay for college.
Visit your financial aid department to research different scholarships, awards, and grants that you could qualify for. Browse your local paper and community bulletin board for organizations and companies in your area that may offer financial aid for college students.
Also, check out groups and other affiliations that you or your parents may be a part of. They may offer small grants for college students as well.
6. Negotiate for less tuition
If you don’t bring up the topic of paying less money, your chosen school won’t automatically offer it. Don’t be afraid to ask and to get that discussion going when creating a plan around how to pay for college.
Explore all of your options, including additional scholarships, grant money, or discounts on housing. Perhaps you can work part-time with the school in exchange for discounted tuition.
Some schools also offer work-study opportunities, even if they don’t have the capacity to offer discounts on tuition. A work-study program will give you the chance to earn money in exchange for aid in paying tuition and other college-related costs.
These jobs could be on-campus working for the school directly, or off-campus working for private organizations. It also encourages things like community service and work-related programs as part of your course study.
7. Consider community college classes
Are there any classes you can take at a local community college before heading off to university? Community colleges usually offer much cheaper tuition and living costs for students, while earning college credits.
You’ll also be able to save money by staying close to home, or living with your parents. Then, after a few years, you can head off to a larger university or out-of-state college to finish your degree.
Overall, your debt load will be much less and you’ll receive a head start on your education if you attend a community college.
How to pay for college while enrolled
There are so many options at your disposal when it comes to researching how to pay for college. It’s all about deciding on what strategies work best for your financial situation.
Use these tips to minimize student loan debt and get your career on the best track right away. You’ll be able to reduce the financial strain while still getting a great education in the long-run.
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