Perhaps you have heard there is currently an epidemic of people in our country crippled under outrageous student loan debt. Some people are heading into retirement and still struggling to pay off their college loans. This is completely unnecessary.
Don't end up like this!
I recently gave a talk at the local community center about the smart way to go about planning with your kids for their college so that they can get a degree with as little as possible, or better yet, no debt, and I realized that this is a subject that I have yet to address in this blog space.
I would like to start off by saying that all four of my children have college degrees, one with a PhD, and not one of them has ever taken out a college loan. I don’t say this to brag, but rather to illustrate my point that it can be done and it’s not even that difficult to do. But you have to have the right mindset. And my kids did not even all follow the same “formula” to achieve this, but each found their own way to achieve their degree with no loans bogging them down at graduation time.
When I say the right mindset, I mean to go into the college years with a clearheaded view of the objective, which is to obtain a college degree that will help launch you into a decent paying career. Some people have taken to making too big a deal about the “college experience” and to this I say it is only four years out of a young person’s life and not worth going into crushing debt for many years to come for some perfect college adventure or “high end” degree. You can pay a reasonable price for that degree and still have a good experience and some good times and you will have the rest of your life for adventures as well.
So here are some things to consider when planning for those college years that can help in obtaining that debt-free degree:
#1. Keep the scales balanced – Be realistic in your approach to college. Do not go
deeply into debt for a degree that will not lead to a lucrative career. Remember you are
paying for a service. Keep your R.O.I. (Return On Investment) in mind.
Make it your objective to avoid debt if at all possible
#2. Getting ready for college
- Get good grades
- Earn college credits. Take AP courses and/or college courses at a reciprocal college
during your high school years if your school offers them.
- Get involved, follow a passion (do not just do a “checklist” of things to beef up your
- Give to your community in a meaningful way in line with your own interests and ideals.
- Start looking for scholarships in sophomore year. Start applying in junior and senior year.
- Look at both local scholarships and online scholarships.
#3. College Choice:
- Be realistic. Go where you can afford!
- Community college for the first two years
- State schools
- Only go to a private school if you get a very good scholarship (to bring it down to at or
below state school tuition). Make sure that scholarship is guaranteed for the entire two or
- Do not get caught up in the prestige of a college name. After your first job or two it’s not
really going to matter anymore where you attended college. It’s your job performance that
will stand for itself.
#4. Choose a practical major:
- Do some research as to your options
- What kind of jobs are available in that field?
- What kind of salary can you expect to make?
- Apply to as many as possible
- Use these websites to find online scholarships: Fastweb, or Niche.com. There are many more.
- Ask the individual colleges about them. One of my sons applied for a scholarship that the young
tour guide happened to mention on a college visit and won a four year full scholarship to that
- Fill out the FASFA (some scholarships are tied to it)
- Keep applying for scholarships even when you are in college
- While in high school
- Over summers
- While in college
- Be entrepreneurial! Rather than work an hourly wage job (such as a cashier or flipping burgers) work for yourself. Even things like babysitting, dog walking, mowing lawns, or tutoring, tend to be more lucrative. If you have a special talent, use it. Give music lessons,
make something to sell, help people with their websites. These types of jobs often
pay more than the hourly wage jobs.
- Be an RA after your freshman year
- Live at home if possible. One of my kids lived at home and commuted to two years of
community college and then another two years at a local state school, all the while
working at a grocery store and paid off the tuition as he went along.
- Take all expenses into account if considering off-campus living (utilities, food shopping,
- As for transportation, seriously consider not having a car through the college years, especially if you are going away to college. Most colleges have a decent mass transit system to get around the
area. None of my kids that went away to college had their own car during those years and they got by just fine.
- Embrace minimalism! Do not go crazy shopping for college housing “stuff”.
If you look like this heading off to college, you spent too much:
- Meal plan-vs-grocery shopping? Carefully consider which would work the best for you and
be the least expensive option.
- If you take the meal plan, use it! Don’t pay for food not eaten. Every meal you paid for but did not eat is wasted money!
- Limit eating out and take-out.
- Cook your own food
Brew your own coffee
Drink water (get a reusable water bottle)
- Do not buy college text books at full price. Use websites like “Chegg” and “Bookfinder” to buy used books or rent them. You can also download them (sometimes for free) on
sites like the Google ebookstore. You can double your savings by sharing them with a
friend taking the same class.
#10. Graduate on time!
- Do not take extra semesters to graduate, paying more for your degree than necessary.
This is especially important If you are taking out any loans for your education.
- In fact, try to graduate a year, or at least a semester early if you can. This is especially
feasible if you have transferred college credits (i.e. AP courses) from high school.
Have a Bright (debt-free) Future!