your college in 5 easy steps
Aim to have as little debt as possible after you finish school.
1. Consider dual enrollment.
Check with your guidance counselor to see if you can take college classes while still in high school. The more credits you earn before you get to college, the fewer you will have to pay for when you go.
2. Start off at a community college.
Community college offers the most affordable education out there. Go to community college to complete the general education classes that every school requires, then transfer to a 4-year school where you can take classes more targeted to your specific degree.
It's important that you first make sure the 4-year school you plan to attend will accept your credits from community college.
3. Compare your housing options.
If you prefer to live off campus rather than in a dorm, be aware that rent is not the only expense you may face. Utilities, food, transportation… the costs can add up pretty quickly.
Your least expensive option may be to live at home and commute, although you may not live close enough to your school to do that.
4. Choose the right meal plan.
If you have a meal plan, make sure to use it. If you don't use it, you lose it.
5. Don't buy new textbooks.
Buy used or check to see if you can rent textbooks at your school. Then sell your books back online, to the bookstore, or to someone else.
Also look online for textbooks. You may find a better deal from an online retailer than from the school bookstore, or you may be able to download a less expensive electronic version to your computer or eReader.
6. Earn money while in school.
Get a part-time job, look into work-study employment, or consider becoming a Resident Advisor (RA). Most schools pay their RAs and contribute to their room and board.
Too stressful to work and go to classes at the same time? Work during your summers off and use the money you earn for tuition, books, or other expenses.
Also look into cooperative education programs, which allow you to alternate between working full time and studying full time. This type of employment program is not based on financial need, and you can earn as much as $7,000 per year.
7. Explore all of your aid options.
Apply for scholarships. Start looking early and apply every year you are in school.
Also check with your school's Financial Aid Office to see if merit-based aid is available. To qualify for merit-based aid, you may need to meet certain criteria. For example, you may need to excel in specific academic areas or certain sports.
8. Be responsible with your student loans.
Student loans are not free. You must pay back your student loans with interest.
If you have student loan money left over after you pay your school expenses, ask the school to return the funds to your lender. The less money you borrow now, the less money you must repay later.
And pay the interest now instead of deferring it. The earlier you pay interest on your student loans, the less money you will shell out in the long run.
9. Graduate on time.
Decide what you want to do with your life and what you want to major in before you go to school. By having a plan, you will avoid paying for classes that don't end up contributing toward your degree, and you'll be able to graduate on time.
10. Take other cost-cutting measures.
School is expensive. Consider taking these additional cost-cutting measures to better manage your budget while in school:
•Avoid credit cards—Credit cards can often (and quickly) lead to unnecessary debt. If you do get a credit card, use it wisely.
•Leave your car at home—Insurance, gas, parking, maintenance. Save money while you're in school and use public or campus transportation.