How to graduate with less student loans

By Taylor Craig
01/14/2016
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College is expensive, and graduating without a mountain of debt is nearly impossible. The average college student graduates with $30,000 in student loans — and that number is only increasing. However, smart financial decisions can help you graduate with a manageable amount of debt. Taking advantage of subsidized federal student loans, student loan forgiveness programs, and searching for grants and scholarships are just a few ways to lower your student loan debt. Learn more about these, and more ways to save.

1. Choose your college carefully

Colleges can range drastically in price. The price tag will vary based on factors like whether you attend an in-state or out-of-state college, a large university, or a private liberal arts school. Financial costs should carry a lot of weight when choosing your college.  Though some may think big-name colleges are desirable to employers, it’s not always true — your major, minor, and GPA will have a much bigger impact on employability. Plus, smaller, lesser-known colleges have a smaller student-to-teacher ratio, allowing for more one-on-one interaction with your professors. You may also want to consider attending a community college before a four-year university, which can save you lots of money and even raise your GPA.

2. Submit the FAFSA

The federal government gives out over $150 billion in federal student aid each year in the form of grants, loans, and work-study funds, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is how to get it. It’s free, and most students qualify. The FAFSA is available on Oct. 1 every year (beginning in 2016). Make sure you submit it ASAP, because some aid is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Remember, in order to qualify for financial aid, you must submit the FAFSA every year, even if your financial situation doesn’t change.

3. Subsidized vs. unsubsidized federal student loans

Knowing the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized student loans can save you lots of money. Subsidized loans are cheaper than unsubsidized loans because the government subsidizes (pays) the interest on your federal student loans while you’re in school. The interest you have to pay off doesn’t begin accumulating until after you graduate. Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest the minute they are disbursed — leaving you with more student debt.

4. Find an employer to pay your tuition

There are numerous jobs that can help you pay for college through student loan forgiveness programs and other types of financial aid. You can work full-time or part-time and learn valuable skills to help build your resume, while paying for school at the same time. Getting work experience in college gives you a huge professional advantage for the future.

5. Apply for college scholarships

Everybody loves scholarships! The more scholarships you apply for, the more college money you can earn. The more you earn, the less tuition you’ll have to pay, which will lower your student debt. There are millions of college scholarships out there and you should apply for scholarships every month — before and throughout college. Treat it like a part-time job and apply, apply, apply!

6. Less flash, more cash

Colleges have become much more student-friendly in recent years. Flashy new private dorm rooms and fifty-meal-a-week meal plans can add thousands to your college tuition. Save money by checking out older dorms and off-campus apartment complexes. They may not be as nice, but you won’t be drowning in student loan debt when you graduate. Also, choose a cheaper meal plan and cook some meals yourself. Not only will it save you money, but you'll learn a valuable skill. If all else fails, there's always Ramen.

7. Apply to be an RL/RA

Residential leaders and resident advisors are a staple at almost every college. They help with moving in, moving out, roommate mishaps, loud music at 1 a.m., and anything else. Being an RL or RA has many intrinsic and extrinsic benefits: you get the satisfaction of helping new students adjust to college life AND most RLs/RAs get their housing, and sometimes meal plans, paid for by the college!

8. Take dual credit while in high school

Taking dual credits, also known as concurrent enrollment, will decrease the amount of student loans you’ll have to take out to pay for college. Dual-credit classes are often cheaper than college courses and can be taken at your local community college. Fulfilling enough dual credits in high school can bring you into college as a second semester freshman or sophomore, allowing you to graduate earlier with less student loan debt.

Going to college is one of the most amazing experiences ever, but it can also be one of the most expensive. Don’t let the best four years of your life hinder your financial future. Choosing your college, and financial aid options carefully, applying for college scholarships and grants, saving money on campus, and getting a job that offers student loan forgiveness are just some of a variety of ways to avoid drowning in debt after you graduate.

Our Scholarship Match searches through millions of scholarships to find the ones that are perfect for you.

About the author


Taylor CraigTaylor is a senior at
Tarleton State University. She is a member of the Presidential Honors Program and the president of the Tarleton Scholars Society. She is majoring in communications, with an emphasis in communicating in relationships, and a minor in psychology. She loves Jesus, wears too much flannel, and is obsessed with The Lord of the Rings.

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