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Slick ways to cut student debt

By Naomi Mannino · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Posted: 5 pm ET

With President Barack Obama all over the news pushing student loan reform (and having performed a slow jam about it on "Late Night" with Jimmy Fallon), it's a topic that needs to be talked about when it comes to saving money.

When you go to college, student loans seem just a part of life. "Sure, I'll pay this money back when I graduate -- where do I sign?" But then you do graduate and those bills start pouring in, and the interest starts accruing. You begin to think about why you decided to major in underwater basketweaving -- and how in the heck you are ever going to pay off all that money? Especially if you want to buy a house, a car or anything else that might require you borrowing even more money.

To put it in perspective, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, puts it this way when explaining student loans to students: "If they take out loans, they will be paying twice as much for everything they buy. For every student loan dollar borrowed, you have to pay back $2."

Hearing that, I'll reiterate what Fallon jammed last night: "Aw, Pell no!"

To avoid as much student loan debt as possible, here are some slick strategies you can use starting in high school (or even younger) to cut college costs.

  • Focus on the highest GPA possible throughout high school and college because most colleges, especially private ones, offer thousands of dollars of academic award money every year.
  • Work and study to get the highest ACT and/or SAT scores you can because academic awards are also based on the simple score.
  • Be realistic about family finances and the student's interest in college, overall. Cut costs by living at home and attending community college if the impetus to attend a four-year college is missing.
  • Excel and train hard in talents such as art, music and sports, which all offer substantial monies toward tuition and expenses depending on the talent level.
  • Consider scholarships the military or your religious institution can provide, as these can sometimes pay a large portion of tuition expenses, depending on the school.
  • Apply for as many outside scholarships as possible by registering on FastWeb.com and CollegeBoard.org among other scholarship search sites. (Never pay for this service.)
  • Commit to work-study programs or a part-time job, but don't work more than 12 hours per week.
  • Take the American Opportunity Tax Credit (through 2012) of up to $2,500 of college costs paid during the taxable year.
  • Educate yourself on current student loan options.
  • Focus the search on colleges with "no-loan" policies for low-income families.
  • Take 18 credits for the price of 15. Some tuition payments allow for up to 18 credits per semester ... don't waste them by only taking 12 or 15.
  • Save money on taking cheaper credits during summer at your local community college (only if credits transfer).
  • Ask how you can get two degrees for the price of one.
  • Find out about federal loan forgiveness programs for military service or volunteer work after graduation.
  • Fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) on time every year.

When you were in college, did any of these tricks help you cut back on costs? What do you think of Obama's new plan? Tell us what you think (and yes, we already know that student loan debt stinks).

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2 Comments
Samantha Howard
April 26, 2012 at 9:43 am

Another way to cut costs is to take as many AP courses in high school as you can. Also check into testing out of classes such as foreign languages when you get to the college. You can also try to CLEP out of classes and if you are really motivated teach yourself then CLEP out.

Katherine Wertheim
April 26, 2012 at 2:39 am

I spent two years at a community college before transferring to a four-year school. It cut my costs in half and was a great education. The average age of students was 26, so they were more mature and really wanted to be there. The professors only taught part-time and generally were involved in a career around what they were teaching: they weren't just academics. Professors didn't spend all their time researching, they were there to teach. There were no TA grad students teaching, there were only experienced teachers. There were even programs to study abroad, like a four-year school. Finally, no one has ever asked me if I spent all four years at the expensive college that granted me my BA. I would definitely recommend a community college to anyone.