Buying a house, purchasing a new car, having a child—these are all major life decisions which we shouldn’t take lightly. They can have a profound impact on our lives, as well as our financial situations.
The same is true for college. With the ever-rising cost of attending a two or four-year school, it is absolutely essential for a person to know what they are getting into before taking the leap.
After all, you wouldn’t purchase a house before considering the location, price, floor plan, or any potential problems, would you? The same careful consideration should go into deciding where to attend college and how best to mitigate debt. According to NewYorkFed.org, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 of debt—and that includes all the people who were lucky enough to get a free ride or had the means to pay for schooling in full!
College prices seem to be spinning out of control and are FAR outstripping the inflation rate. Take Harvard, for example. Harvard's annual tuition and fees are $45,278 this year, not including room and board. That’s more than 17 times the 1971-72 cost. According to CNBC, “If annual increases had simply tracked the inflation rate since 1971, next year's tuition would be just $15,189.”
It seems daunting, doesn’t it? But, believe it or not, there are ways to minimize college debt.
If you, or a loved one, is thinking about going (or going back) to school, start by asking yourself what type of school you’d like to attend. It’s possible that a four-year college or university is not the right fit (more on that in my last post about alternatives to four-year schools).
Ask yourself what you’re seeking in a school and what a future employer may look for. Is it worth it to pay over $50,00 per year for tuition at Carleton College when you could get a similar degree from the University of Minnesota for less than $15,000 (not including room and board).
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few schools that make sense for you, start strategizing on how to pay for them. Start with these four tips:
Start Saving Now
The time to start saving is NOW. Look into opening a 529 plan, which is a savings account specifically designated for secondary education. It comes with several tax advantages (ask your financial advisor for details) and can benefit future college students of any age.
If your goal is to attend a four-year college, consider starting at a community college and transferring the credits you earn. Since community colleges are generally less expensive than other schools, this strategy can help save you money by shaving off a year or two at a four-year school.
Another option for high school students is to consider Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO). Students in their junior or senior year who have a decent GPA (the requirements vary from school to school), can apply to take courses at certain colleges and universities. These courses are free in the state of MN.
A word of warning: Make sure your credits will transfer before diving in to your community college classes. Different colleges have different rules about what will or will not transfer.
Hunt for Scholarships
Many different organizations—community groups, clubs, churches, corporations—sponsor scholarships for students. You may qualify for a scholarship based on academic achievement, athletics, financial needs, ethnicity, or even if you submit a well-written essay. Find scholarships through a school counselor, a parent (or spouse’s) company, local clubs, or through the Department of Labor’s database.
Many colleges offer work study opportunities. Take advantage of these programs! By working part-time while attending school, you can alleviate part of your student debt. Remember: every dollar you earn and put toward your education is a dollar that you do not have to borrow in the form of a loan. Just make sure that your work isn’t interfering with your studies, because that entirely defeats the purpose!
Good luck with your secondary education journey! Start strategizing now, make prudent decisions about your education, and search for ways to cover part—or all—of your education. If you’d like more guidance, I’d be happy to help.