Go to community college for core classes
If you don’t receive the necessary aid from the school of your choice, you may want to consider spending your first few years at a community college.
“Many employers and grad schools care more about where you finish than where you start,” Neiser says. You may be able to lower the total cost of your tuition by taking some basic English, Math or History classes over the summer at a local community college as well.
“Bank some credits at a lower per average cost on your core classes,” he adds.
Take a gap year
Another potential way to minimize debt is to take a year off in between high school and college. Those truly low on funding can spend this year working in an attempt to save up enough money to attend their college of choice.
Neiser says those who really use their gap year to focus on finances may find “you haven’t spent as much money and you brought some into your life to mitigate the loans you take out later on.”
You can find more information about whether a gap year is right for you in this MainStreet analysis.
Working 15 to 20 hours a week while in school is another great way to subsidize pricey tuition. Again, de Baca advises students concerned with working part-time while being a full-time student to consider the tradeoff.
“Earning money during school can take a bite out of what you have to borrow,” she says, “even if it means going to school one semester longer.”
In addition to school work study programs, you can find some of the better side jobs to consider in this MainStreet round up.
Only spend loans on education-related expenses
The quickest way to get into financial trouble is to put your loan money towards every line item in your budget.
“It really is a loan, but most people look at it as a windfall,” Grosz says. Instead of succumbing to temptation, try to only put borrowed funds towards tuition, fees and education-related expenditures like books. To ensure you don’t stray, make some small changes to your general budget.
“Instead of trying to lower the dollar amount, you have to reduce the frequency,” Grosz says. For instance, you might want to only get two lattes from the campus coffee joint once a week rather than every morning.
Get smart about other costs beyond tuition
There are also ways to minimize the amount of loan money you have to put towards secondary educational expenses. For instance, buy or rent used textbooks via websites like Chegg.com or CampusBookRentals.com in lieu of buying new ones at the campus bookstore. You might also want to consider living home instead of dorming on campus. In these instances, it helps to research public transportation options to keep the costs of commuting down.
“There’s always another way of looking at things,” Neiser says. “Slow down the process and analyze costs so you don’t get caught.”