The Frugal Guide to Paying for College

College costs are out of control. 71% of all college graduates matriculate with student loan debt that averages about $37,000 and easily can be in excess of $100,000 or more. And yet, this doesn’t have to be the case. For those of you with children/grandchildren and who are trying to avoid saddling your offspring with tremendous debt, there is hope. Here are our top tips for reducing college debt:

Tip #1: Take Advanced Placement Courses In High School

Smart students can get a free jump on college by taking and passing AP courses while a junior or senior in high school.  We know of one savvy student who trimmed a full semester off of college by taking college courses for credit during her senior year.

Hilton Head Paying for Education

Tip #2: Consider Community Colleges For The First Two Years

First, they are a great bargain, with 2 year colleges averaging $3400 in tuition per year for in-state residents. Second, they provide an emotional middle ground for students not quite ready to live far from home. Check out www.americanhonors.org to see if an honors program at a Community College might be a good segue for your student.

Beaufort Community College

Tip #3: Encourage Your Student To Work

There are many ways to earn money while going to college: work/study programs, part-time jobs, and paid internships.  Working and paying for school helps students take ownership of their lives and improves the odds of their success.  The Resident Assistant (RA) Programs offer a great opportunity for students to get free room and board while gaining leadership skills; this could mean a saving of $10,000 to $20,000 per year.

Hilton Head College Jobs

Tip #4: Graduate In Four Years

This may seem obvious, but half of all those graduating with a bachelor’s degree took more than 5 years. At most public universities, only 19% of students graduated in 4 years. Students should select their courses carefully and make sure that they are on track to graduate on time.

Hilton Head 529 Account

Tip #5: Look For Free Money

There are several options for getting someone else to pay your tuition.  The first is employer tuition reimbursement programs.  Chipotle, Starbucks and Chrysler are three companies that we know of that offer great tuition reimbursement to their employees.  For those who have served in the military the Post 9/11 GI Bill has some excellent free tuition benefits, including free instate tuition for 36 months and a housing allowance.  Finally, be sure to exhaust all the financial aid, grant and scholarship opportunities that abound.

Tip #6: Pick The Right Major & Right School

Many parents talk about “following your passion” but not many have a frank discussion of choosing a major or a college that is financially feasible. Rule of thumb: your college loan debt should not exceed the salary that you expect to make in your first year out of college. A college education is an investment and you should calculate your return on your investment.

Bottom line: you have choices that will directly impact how much college will cost.  Choose wisely!