As a recent college graduate and a financial trainer at Old National Bank, I know there are students today who think that graduating debtless is impossible. In some cases that may be true. But what if, before even stepping foot on a college campus, you planned to decrease your debt? There are several ways to reduce your costs before you start school – including applying for scholarships, receiving assistance, getting a job and saving.
Determine a budget
As a first step, it's important to know what you can afford and make choices accordingly. One of the biggest misconceptions about college is that all schools are expensive. According to a study by Student Loan Hero, the average student who chooses a community college for an associate’s degree before transferring to an in-state college saves $11,377. Keep in mind, this number is reflective of choosing an affordable in-state college. College is not a vacation and staying in your state can allow you to take full advantage of the tax dollars going toward the university. And choosing a more affordable school can save thousands of dollars a semester while earning a virtually identical degree.
Apply for scholarships
If a public college isn’t the preferred option (or even if it is), be sure to look at scholarship possibilities. There are scholarships for all skills, abilities and passions. According to scholarships.com, private scholarships available include the Asparagus Club Scholarship of $8,000, the Duck Calling Contest Scholarship, and the Tall Club scholarship, with scholarships specifically for tall students. Even if none of these applies to you, there are many others that will be a better match. Believe it or not, there are scholarships that go unclaimed!
Take advantage of other financial assistance
Beyond scholarships, there are assistance programs for college students, including federally funded aid programs, grants, loans and work-benefit programs. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education awarded over $120 billion through these federally funded programs.
- Loans are borrowed money for school that need to be repaid, with interest, and can be federally funded or privately funded. Federally funded options can be accessed by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as a FAFSA®.
- Unlike loans, grants do not need to be repaid, but often are contingent on the completion of your program.
- Work-study programs are programs offered through the university that allow you to work and earn money to help pay for school.
Another popular option to help pay for your education is to find a private employer who will help fund your tuition. (Old National, for instance, helped pay for mine through tuition assistance and reimbursement programs.)
Live within your means
Let’s also talk about personal savings. In some cases, it may seem too late to start saving, but every dollar and every cent add up. There will be expenses in college that are not covered under your aid program or reimbursement, whether it is a school expense or a personal expense – and these expenses pile up quickly. Any amount of cash available is greatly helpful as a student.
The goal is to live small now, so you can live large later. That means reducing your expenses and watching your money grow in a savings account. Living well within your means and being content is the best way to begin saving for any cause, not just college.
Graduating debt-free is not easy, but it is possible – and I am proof of that. Thanks to my family’s personal savings, my own personal savings, and the programs Old National offered to encourage advancement from within, I am writing this today with no debt – and it all started many years before even stepping foot on a college campus.
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Jack is a Registered Real-Life Finance Instructor and Commercial Relationship Manager, Jr. at Old National. A recent college graduate, Jack has more than five years of experience in banking. Partnering with local community agencies including schools and nonprofit organizations, he has taught financial education in over 200 settings. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Jump Start Coalition, promoting financial empowerment and education nationwide. Jack believes financial wellness through financial education should begin at a young age and is the key to future success.
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