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Going to college and graduating debt-free is the new trend nowadays, and for good reason. The number of college graduates drowning in debt is alarming. But, for teens preparing for college in high school, it can be quite the challenge to go through the financial process.
The Struggle starts in High School
Being a teen is hard, especially in the educational system we have in the U.S. The grade point averages are hitting an all-time high, so high that its unrealistic to go to a decent college without taking any AP or college class while in high school.
Not only do teens have to navigate which classes to take to help their GPA and keep them competitive, they also have to choose which colleges they want to consider by the time their 15-16 years old. It’s a lot of pressure on our teens.
Of course, getting good grades and test scores to prepare for college is only a part of the equation. Student financial packages are one of the hardest college components for teens and their parents to decipher.
There are loads of internet information out there and it can be quite tedious to sort through what works and what is a disaster waiting to happen.
My personal experience
I remember this part very clearly. Coming from a single-parent household and being in the low income bracket, I applied to a state university and filled out my FAFSA. In hindsight, I was pretty much set to go to college without paying a penny out of pocket. Lucky, right?
Well, this isn’t the way it ended.
College financial packages are long, drawn-out and downright confusing. Looking back, I wish there was a course in high school where they EXPLAINED what my options were prior to my accepting my finance package.
But, sadly, there wasn’t such a class and I ended up thinking I HAD to accept the loans that were part of my package. Here’s where my downfall started.
Teens have little to no financial experience and are yet expected to know how to accept their finance package, as if it were a simple, clear process.
It’s no wonder that our U.S. students are at an astronomical 1.49 Trillion dollars in debt as of December 2017, according to the Federal Research website.
Let’s Reduce College debt
Well, I want to help change this number. I want to give my experience and help you understand and make wiser decisions on what you choose to accept and reject from your college financial packages.
Here are some good nuggets of information you should know before accepting anything:
EVERYTHING is negotiable, even tuition
I recently discovered this while going to college night with my teen. I had no idea this was a possibility when I was in high school.
Did you know that you can actually negotiate tuition at many schools by using your grades as leverage?
If you are a good student, you can sit down with the admissions counselor and talk numbers. There is an awesome Forbes article that gives you valuable information on this subject.
Avoid Student Loans
While they are an option, there are so many other options, that loans should be on the very, very bottom of your list. (Better yet, don’t even include it!)
Your parents’ financial situation affects your college package
It literally hurts me to hear that some students still think they can’t go to college because their parents can’t afford it. On the contrary!
The more financial need you have, the more that you’ll receive grants and other financial need-based aid that often times you can go to school for free!
I should add that this also heavily depends on your high school grades and your student standing.
But, it’s safe to say that if you are a good student, you should never think that college is beyond your reach because of your financial inability to afford it. There are TONS of options for you.
This post couldn’t be complete without a list of ways you can realistically save money for college, before, during, and after you graduate.
So here are some you can start on today, and the earlier you get started on these, the better!
1- Apply for scholarships
This is #1 on my list for a reason. This is by far, one of the most effective ways of saving up for college quickly and steadily. You can start applying for scholarships as early as middle school and apply for an unlimited amount of them.
So, if you are driven, you can have every penny needed for college before you even start applying to schools.
A book I found incredibly helpful for navigating the plethora of options and information was How to Go to College Almost for Free by Ben Kaplan, and to save money on the book, check it out at your local library!
2- Regularly speak to your college counselor in high school
I think college counselors are so underutilized. It’s a shame, really. They have so much information and their job is to literally help you navigate all of the college-related information, including financial aid, money for college, and scholarship applications available to you.
3- Work summer jobs and start saving
So many young people use their summer money as fun money. Saving as much money as possible during your high school years will greatly help you pay for college and stay debt-free.
Have fun when you graduate and start making real money that 100% belongs to you instead of having to pay back student loans.
4- Research schools that are known for offering good financial packages
Believe it or not, private schools are more open to negotiating their financial packages than the state schools.
While they generally have a higher ticket price on tuition, they will work with you on the total cost and often times you can get a really good reduction if you’re grades are good.
5- Look at alternative schools that don’t require a hefty tuition
Did you know that some schools don’t even charge tuition? Here is an article that discusses 20 Tuition Free Colleges that you might want to check out. Imagine how many others are out there.
6- Start a side-hustle
This tip gets mentioned a lot, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. Use any of your awesome talents and market it in a way where you either offer a service or a product that can help raise some extra side money.
It could be as simple as tutoring after school for fellow classmates to creating an app for your school to help with events or student activities. Whatever you do will help your savings grow for college.
7- Avoid student loans like they’re the plague
I am strongly urging you to find any other way to pay for college. Starting off your career as a new graduate with an entry-level job and student loan debt the size of a boat is NOT the way to go.
Believe me, you’ll thank your lucky stars that you found another way to pay for college when you’re graduating debt-free and have the freedom to keep your paycheck.
8- Create and stick to a budget
This is a basic tip, but it’s so important. At any point that you are making any side income, you should be adding all of your expenses in a budget to make sure you are on track for saving the most you can.
9- Learn how to save money in all aspects of your life
Adopting a frugal lifestyle early on will serve as a huge benefit to you. I am not suggesting that you stop having fun, but just have fun in ways that don’t cost you loads of money.
Save on shopping, eating out, and even try out couponing for basic everyday items to save a lot of cash in the long run. If my 16 year old can do it, any teen can.
10- Pass your class the first time
When in college, it’s important that you don’t start to slack off. Many times, you see students who work their tails off during high school and think that they can slack a little during college.
If you think this way, you need to rethink your theory. Slacking off in college will cost you a lot of money.
Failing a class will mean you need to retake it to get your degree, which means forking over hundreds of dollars to retake that class.
So, my advice to you is that you pass every single class the first time you take it. You’ll avoid pushing back your graduation date and you’ll only have to pay for the class once. Once is enough.
11- Take summer school at a community college
As a college student, I used this tool to save a lot of money. Community colleges are much cheaper than 4 year Universities and offer tons of general education classes that everyone needs to take no matter what your major is.
The first two years are general education in the U.S., so take advantage of taking the same classes for the same credit at a cheaper price point. Their books sometimes are a bit cheaper too.
12- Take night school at a community college
Same theory as #11, except you can take advantage of this during college AND high school.
You can start taking classes at your community college starting summer of Sophomore year and, if you’re lucky, some schools actually offer college classes at your high school after school and the community college professors come to you.
If you’re taking college classes in high school, they are also generally FREE. You can get more information from your school college counselor or the career center.
13- Live off campus, preferably with roommates or at home, if you can
During college, if you plan on living at school, you are going to pay thousands of dollars for room and board.
Opt for either renting an apartment nearby the school with a few roommates or if you’re local, stay at home. You will save so much money over 4 years by checking out alternative options to school housing.
14- Save on books and school supplies
Look for used books whenever you can and remember to return them for “BuyBack” days to get some of your money back at the end of the term.
Used books are still pricey, but much more affordable than their new counterparts.
For school supplies, shop around during the back-to-school sales and you’ll get some really good deals on all your supplies. Don’t shop at the college stationary stores, they are really overpriced.
15- Learn to save on groceries while in college
Just like finding alternative living arrangements, you need to be mindful of your food choices. Don’t go out to restaurants or fast food eateries regularly. All that money can go toward your fixed school cost.
Try to cook at home, make batch recipes, meal prep, and avoid eating out as much as you can. You’ll save money and you’ll save yourself from joining the “Freshman 15” trend.
16- Bring your lunch
While you’re at it, if you’re shopping for food and cooking at home, take your lunch and snacks with you to school. Vending machine and eatery snacks cost a lot.
Even if you bring vending machine-style snacks that you bought in bulk from the grocery store, you’ll still save a considerable amount of money and can still eat the snacks you enjoy.
17- Skip the coffee
Make your coffee at home. There are so many great choices to buy at the grocery store now, so save a few bucks and make it at home.
College students are notorious for needing their coffee fix, so while I definitely am not suggesting NOT drinking coffee, make it yourself and keep your money in your pocket.
18- Look for accelerated degree combinations that can have you finishing a BS/MS or and MS/PHD in less time.
This tip can save you anywhere between 1-2 years of cost. Yes, it’s absolutely rigorous and competitive, but if you are driven, then this can greatly benefit you and save you a year or two of tuition and associated college expenses.
19- Ask about grants
Not enough students know what grants are. They are money programs funded by the government that are paid out to students and they are completely forgiven.
Meaning, you never have to pay them back! Check out what grants you qualify for and what your options are. You can ask your college career counselor or the career office at your school.
You can also do your own online research. But, be sure to ask, you may find out that you qualify.
I sincerely hope that you got some useful tips and advice here and I hope that it helps save you loads of money. The goal should be to get educated with as little out-of-pocket cost as possible.
That way, you can graduate and start living your life, not graduate and start paying off debt. You have the power to make the difference in how you live after graduation.