Proper planning is a key part of financing a college education. As college costs have increased more families have used federal and private student loans to pay for tuition. However the assumption that a college degree is worth whatever debt used to pay for it has quickly eroded. Just ask any recent graduate that is unemployed with student loan payments due. The need for proper planning has intensified. Families need to think critically about college prospects considering debt and job opportunities. These 5 tips for college planning can help you choose a major that makes sense and control any student loan debt incurred.

1. Start saving early

In order to handle college expenses a 529 plan should be started early so a substantial amount can be saved. The earlier you start the more you can save. Of course saving money for college is easier said than done, but this is where serious parents step up in order to make a difference. The more money that is saved, the less will be required from a student loan to pay the rest of tuition. Read more about 529 plans and find one that works for you.

2. On average, grants and scholarships only account for a portion of the balance

No matter how much talent a student may have, they can’t depend on a full ride for school. Athletic scholarships go to less than 1% of all college students. Academic scholarships can be substantial, but rarely do they cover the whole bill. Grants are financial aid based on family income. This puts a lot of middle income families out of eligibility. Your dream college could end up costing more than it is worth if you have to use student loans to pay most of the bill. Be prepared to handle alternate financing routes such as working while in school, and applying for student loans only when absolutely necessary.

3. Establish worthwhile goals

Completing a college degree is a worthy achievement but it is just the beginning. You should establish goals for your life that go beyond graduation day. Goals will keep you inspired everyday by having something to work towards. Building a career, meeting friends, learning new skills, and keeping a positive attitude are just some of the goals you can pursue for a life time. If you are not sure what you want to do with your life, then make it your goal to figure it out. It is no easy task but that is why it is worthwhile. Having goals in place will help you with the college planning process because you will know what it is you are working towards.

4. Have realistic expectations for college

New college freshman and their parents tend to look at the world through rose colored glasses. They believe that college will transform a recent high school graduate into a gainfully employed adult after just four (or five) years. This is just not the case. College is an important time for a young person to learn and develop. However, results will vary. College is a life changing experience only to the extent to which a student is willing to learn and grow. Assuming your life will change simply by attending college does not account for any of the effort and work one must put in.

5. Student debt must be in line with your major and career goals

Many students use student loans to pay their tuition bill. However, expecting a big income after earning a degree is a thing of the past. College grads need to build work experience before real income can roll in. Problems arise when students take out too much loans and their income is not high enough to pay them back. Check out average salaries based on degree so you have an idea of what to expect after graduation. Then compare that to the amount of debt you need to attend your school of choice. Using a high amount of debt to complete a degree with limited income potential could spell disaster after graduation.

Please note that the information provided on this website is provided on a general basis and may not apply to your own specific individual needs, goals, financial position, experience, etc. LendKey does not guarantee that the information provided on any third-party website that LendKey offers a hyperlink to is up-to-date and accurate at the time you access it, and LendKey does not guarantee that information provided on such external websites (and this website) is best-suited for your particular circumstances. Therefore, you may want to consult with an expert (financial adviser, school financial aid office, etc.) before making financial decisions that may be discussed on this website.