How to Stay Out of Debt During College

How to Stay Out of Debt During College

Ah, college. For many of us, these formative years of learning yield much more than just an education and a degree; our college years can be some of the most memorable of our entire lives. Unfortunately, however, there is something else that attending a facility of higher learning can leave us with that doesn’t quickly go away: massive debt. Paying for college in the United States can be expensive, forcing many students to take out large student loans to pay for it all. Currently, the total amount of student loan debt in the country is over one trillion dollars. Fortunately, however, there are some ways to help manage this financial burden and potentially stay out of debt (mostly) during your education.

Plan Ahead

For most people, the timeline of our lives is pretty straightforward: go to school, go to college, get a degree, find a career. It’s so ingrained in our collective consciousness that many people just jump right into university after high school without really thinking ahead. Sure, they may plan campus visits and compare majors, but a lot of people don’t plan ahead when it comes to their financial future. The concept of “buy now, pay later” is the mantra of many citizens, and it can come at a hefty price. If you plan your college education based on your financial needs instead of your educational needs, then you can hopefully minimize your debt accumulation.

Look at what all of your options are, such as taking online courses instead of being in a classroom, living with your parents instead of on campus, going to school part-time to allow for a full-time job; these are all options that are readily available to you. The more you plan ahead, the better your odds of not racking up obscene amounts of debt.

Educate Yourself Financially

For many college students, the concept of balancing a checkbook or managing a tight budget is as foreign to them as Nietzsche or Kierkegaard. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. The best person from which you can learn all of this? Your parents.

Realistically, they have already gained the necessary experience to reasonably manage their finances, so there’s no reason you can’t profit from their expertise. Learn to keep track of your money, and learn how to avoid financial pitfalls such as credit cards. Budget yourself monthly, and resist the temptation to spend money on frivolous items, like going out drinking or buying coffee every day. The smarter you are about your funds, the less likely you are to spend them recklessly.  

Get A Job

By far, this is probably one of the best ways to mitigate your debt accumulation during college. Getting a part-time job while going to class can help you pay off your student loans faster. It’s always tempting to just wait and pay them off after your graduate, but the longer you postpone the inevitable, the worse off you will be. Ideally, search for a job that is related to your career field, even if this means getting an internship first.

However, if that doesn’t seem possible or plausible, working at a fast food place or something similar can still help you out financially, as well as provide work experience for after graduation. If necessary, lighten your school load to allow yourself enough time to work. It may take longer to get your degree, but you’ll come out the other side with a lot less debt than your classmates.

Utilize Relief Programs

Most of us are familiar with the concept of scholarships. These are set amount of funds awarded to qualified students that meet certain criteria. However, many people just assume that a scholarship is something like a free ride, meaning that it pays for the entire college experience. In fact, most universities have a broad range of scholarships, which offer different amounts to those who qualify.

Research and apply to as many of these as you can, so you can mitigate your college expenses. Even if a scholarship is a thousand bucks, that’s money that you can save on your student loans, or put back in your pocket. In addition to scholarships, take advantage of student discounts that are offered by businesses. Items like laptops, computer software, and school supplies are usually marked down for full-time students, so utilize them as much as possible. This can also apply to things like car insurance, so make sure that everyone you conduct business with knows you’re a student, just in case it means paying less.

When it comes to using relief programs, you don’t have to rely solely on those that are available to students. Some colleges, such as Portland State University or ACU Online, encourage their students to use federal assistance programs like SNAP. If you aren’t working or only have a limited income, you may qualify for welfare. If this is the case, it can save you a lot of money during your education.
Going to college can be a challenging, rewarding experience. However, it doesn’t have to be the significant financial burden that it is for most graduates. Take the time to plan for your future, and don’t rush into anything. In the race to get a degree and enter the workforce, you could be setting yourself up for future failure when it comes time to pay back all of your student loans. It’s your life, make sure you can pay for it.