The cost of a college education is rising every year, and there are no signs that it will stop anytime soon. Not only is tuition rising, but the amount of student debt is reaching epidemic proportions — something a New York Times editorial referred to as “the new normal.”
In order to get the education you need and get the fresh start you need after graduation — instead of finding yourself saddled in debt — you have to start planning early. By making smart financial decisions before your first day of class begins, you can make sure that your debt level is manageable (or maybe even non-existent). Here are a few tips for financial planning for your college education:
Work and Save
The best way to make sure you don’t wind up in debt is to work as much as you can and to save as much as you can. You aren’t likely to be able to pay for all of your tuition, even at a community college, but you may be able to pay for a year or two. Any amount you can pay for tuition yourself — or for books or room and board — will reduce the amount you have to borrow.
Contribute to a College Savings Plan
Hopefully, your parents started a college savings plan for you as a small child. However, if they didn’t, you can ask them to start one for you now, and you can help to contribute to it. These plans are tax-deferred so you can make your dollar stretch. Save as much as you can in one of these plans to reduce your debt burden later.
Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants are the best way to pay for college because they offer you free money. Scholarships and grants give you the money you need for tuition, room and board and other educational expenses, and you don’t have to pay it back. There are thousands of scholarships and grants available, so you can get enough to pay for all your expenses or just a little extra to pay for books or other minor expenses. Whatever you can get, it will reduce your debt burden later.
Learn Responsible Borrowing
Student loans are relatively easy to get. While many student loans may come with a lower interest rate, you still risk taking on an unmanageable debt load if you are not careful about your borrowing. Educate yourself about responsible borrowing by learning about how much you can really afford to take on and exploring ways to reduce your debt burden.
Explore Other Ways to Save
There are many, many ways to save on your college expenses. A few options include:
- Attending community college or a state school
- Going to school part-time while working
- Taking time off to work and save either before or during your program
- Living at home instead of in a dorm
- Buying used textbooks or renting them
- Taking courses online and continuing to work
Brainstorm the best options for you to meet your goals while still being able to save. If you make the right choices and you work hard enough, you may even be able to get out of college debt-free.
As the cost of tuition and colleges expenses continue to rise, it becomes ever more important for you to make smart financial choices so you don’t graduate with unmanageable debt. These tips can help you to make smart financial choices so you can start your career on the right foot.