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Student Loans: 3 Ways to Avoid That Mess

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For many young people about to head off to college (in the U.S.), the necessity of student loans is a foregone conclusion. You have to get them, right? Your parents had them. The only way to avoid it was to get on the G.I. Bill or some other program that got you your degree without signing your future income away.

Seventy-one percent of college grads in the U.S. walk out with a degree that doubles as an IOU for almost $30,000. And one in eight students leaves owing $50,000 or more.

Nowadays, some financial advisors say that sending your kids off to college with the presumption that they will just “get loans like I did” is irresponsible, if it can be avoided. It sends the wrong message to someone starting out in the world. It tells kids that the lifestyle of deferred payment is acceptable. Then, when your kid gets on campus and is assailed with credit card offers, what lesson will they draw from?

Forbes Magazine recently published an article that outlined a few ways one could go about avoiding student loans, including working while in college to help with tuition, maximizing grants and scholarships, and starting your college credit accumulation early — and free — by taking AP classes in high school.

Their suggestions were helpful. But if you really want to get out of college without being saddled with debt the day you walk out, you’ll want to go deeper.

Here are a few other tips for getting out without the $30K monkey on your back.

1) Look Deeper Into Straight-Up Grants from Companies, Not Loans

Everybody already does the FAFSA route, which includes checks on federal grant eligibility (e.g. Pell grants). Far too many people presume that they will not qualify for other private grants or that they will already be scooped up by someone else. Don’t give up so soon. And start early.

Aim for particular grant opportunities. Call and write to organizations while in high school, and ask what they are looking to support. Put yourself in their line of fire, perhaps even cultivating tacit relationships with people in those organizations, asking for their advice and guidance.

Some good places to look: local banks and businesses that set money aside for such purposes. Tell them you don’t want the money now, to avoid being put in the queue with everyone else. Instead, ask about what their ideal candidate looks like, and also ask about other volunteer and charitable events and efforts they have. Get involved in those to get your foot in the door with the organization as a whole.

If you are a parent, rather than get your kid a summer job, look into unpaid internships with companies that can help them with college in the future.

2) Start at a Community College and Transfer your Credits

This is an old Dave Ramsey standby recommendation. Community colleges are far cheaper than big name schools.

But once upon a time, this was hardly worth looking at for many people, because some of the classes you took were non-transferrable. Give this another look now. Some community college organizations even have partnership arrangements with bigger universities, allowing you to not only transfer 100% of your credits at some future point, but to keep the tuition rate of the community college even after you move on up to the big school.

Your best move: call the community college admissions itself, not the big school. The little guy will use this as a selling point to get you in.

3) Get Creative, With the Aim of Walking Away Debt-Free

This is kind of an over-arcing determination that will help open you to opportunities and methods that may come along. It is important that you be hard set that you are not getting loans. Don’t let counselors and well-meaning adults tell you that it is all par for the course. Nothing is par for the course anymore. And there are ways to do it differently.

If you need to, take single-semester breaks occasionally to work and save money. Even start a business in college. Don’t eat out as a habit. Keep a good schedule during college, getting plenty of sleep, studying effectively, and working if you can to pay out of pocket for tuition.

There are still schools that offer not only work-study programs, but tuition replacement for work done around campus. Combine some time spent at an institution like that with the tactic of community college first and a couple of grants, and you can save a ton of money.

If your child is a prodigy within a certain field, and you simply have no other way to avoid loans to get them into their field as soon as possible, do what you have to do. Just don’t take it as a foregone conclusion that student loans are inevitable.

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Student Loans: 3 Ways to Avoid That Mess
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