If you’ve accepted your college’s financial student aid package (grants and work-study only) and submitted dozens of scholarship applications to avoid taking out student loans, you may still be shocked when your tuition bill arrives with a balance due.
Sadly, you might even feel like it’s your destiny to join the 44.7 million Americans who are struggling to repay student loan debt. While it’s true that the average student loan borrower has accrued more than $37,000 in student loans, there are funding alternatives available for almost every student. Spoiler alert: the solution isn’t simply to borrow less. The money to cover tuition, fees, books, and living expenses has to come from somewhere, but you have options.
Here’s how to graduate from college with less student loan debt than your peers:
1. Apply for a Residence Advisor (RA) Position
Run, don’t walk, to your college’s housing department and ask for a Resident Assistant job application. These coveted positions (which are not available to freshmen) can be a fun way to earn free dorm housing and receive a lower-cost meal plan while receiving a small monthly stipend. Most RAs work around 15 hours a week and are mainly responsible for coordinating dorm activities.
2. Accept Unused Military Education Benefits
If you have a spouse or parent who is a military veteran, and they have unused Post-9/11 G.I. Bill education benefits, they may be able to transfer those benefits to you. These benefits can cover the full cost of public, in-state tuition and fees while providing additional funds for other educational expenses. Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website for complete information.
3. Live at Home
While you’re eager to be on your own for the first time, living on campus or in your own apartment can get expensive fast. Consider staying at home and commuting to school if your parents live close to your campus. If moving back home isn’t an option, place an ad on campus for a roommate. Splitting rent and other bills can help reduce your living expenses and the amount you might have to borrow.
4. Follow a Budget
Use a budget to track how much money you need to cover your expenses each month. Evaluating your needs versus your wants is one of the best ways to keep student loan borrowing to a minimum. A student ID card can offer a lower-cost way to pay for the items on your wants list with student discounts. Learning how to manage your finances as a student can also prepare you for life after college.
5. Attend a Community College
Staying close to home can mean significant savings even if living with your parents or getting a roommate isn’t an option. Complete lower-division coursework at a community college before transferring to a four-year university. Core classes at a community college typically cost significantly less than the same credits offered at a major university. Before you enroll, speak with both schools’ admissions departments to ensure your credits will transfer into your chosen program.
6. Pass a CLEP Exam
There’s no need to pay for college classes on topics you’ve already mastered. Your knowledge can literally pay off in terms of both time and money. For each two-hour exam you pass, that’s less time you need to spend pursuing your degree. And, according to the College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP), a student who earns 15 CLEP credits toward a degree might save up to $5,000 at the average four-year university — and even more at a private institution. While each exam costs just under $100, you can choose from 34 exams that could save $1,000s in tuition and books, not to mention time!
7. Work for Employers Who Offer Tuition Reimbursement
Getting a summer job or working while in school are common ways to pay for college expenses without taking out a loan. But one aspect of employment students often overlook is employer tuition reimbursement. Some employers even allow part-time employees to qualify for this workplace benefit. For example, Starbucks and Verizon Wireless offer tuition reimbursement opportunities to part-time employees. Most programs require an application and approval before the start of class, so speak with your human resources department for program details.
If you find that you still need to borrow to pay for your educational expenses, consider a low-interest rate private student loan. LendKey offers variable and fixed-rate student loans to help you achieve your dreams of higher education. Apply today!