5 Tips For Attending College Without Incurring Substantial Debt

A college education remains a primary path for students and jobseekers seeking a prosperous future. Over a lifetime, a college graduate, on average, earns a significantly higher lifetime of earnings than a person who stopped their education at a high school diploma or GED. The problem is that federal and state financial aid has not increased in line with rising college costs, particularly tuition and textbook costs.

What options are college students faced with? Lacking scholarships or family contributions, students are taking out federal and private loans. As a consequence, college students are often graduating with an average of $30,000 in loan debt. Debt at that level often takes more than ten years to pay off while also consuming a large percent of a professional’s take-home pay. To avoid amassing such incredible debts, students have alternatives, options that would reduce if not eliminate the need for taking out loans.


1. Attend a college “In-state.” Students who are residents of the state where their college is located generally pay a significant lower tuition rate than “out of state” students. Look at options in your home state for your higher ed needs.

2. Commute to college. Tuition is usually not the biggest expense for students. Rather, dorm rooms and often mandatory meal plans are often the biggest costs for students. If a student has a safe and supportive home environment, they should consider commuting to a nearby college or university. Doing so could ultimately save students tens of thousands of dollars over their college career.

3.Attend “Public” colleges or universities. Private colleges generally charge a significantly higher tuition rate than city, county and/or state-funded colleges do. Attending a public institution could save a student tens or thousands of dollars in tuition costs alone. For those promoting small class sizes and the stellar reputation of private institutions as the reason for attending a private college, most public institutions have great reputations while also offering class sizes on par with private institutions.

4. Keep looking for scholarships. For students who struggled academically in high school, they likely won’t receive scholarships, whether from a college itself or a foundation or private institution. However, students can still look for scholarships AFTER starting college as there are a variety of scholarships designed for and given to undergraduates. The key is for students to achieve and maintain high grades/GPAs once they start college. Local community foundations often offer scholarships, and there are unique scholarships as well. Ask your college’s financial aid office for a list of reputable scholarship search engines, and always check to make certain a scholarship is legit BEFORE submitting any personal information like a social security number.

5. Attend a community college: Community colleges often focus on providing two-year associate degrees for students at a tuition rate that is generally lower than nearby state colleges and universities. These programs are often designed to fulfill the general education requirements of state institutions, and the community colleges often provide an easier way into four-year institutions (transfer to a four-year college or university after completing an associate’s degree or even just one semester). What’s more, an associate degree is often a sufficient educational background with which to make a decent living, depending on the cost of living where a person lives. Computer and medical-focused associate degrees are especially good investments


About Neil O’Donnell

Neil O’Donnell has spent the last 17 years as a college advisor providing undergraduates with academic, career, and financial guidance. Also a certified career coach and award-winning author, O’Donnell has published multiple books that summarize the very guidance he provides to his own students, particularly in his book, THE CAREER-MINDED STUDENT. Connect with Neil on Linkedin and Twitter.

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