Student loan debt has become a crippling factor in our national economy. Young people are walking off the graduation stage with a diploma in one hand and many years of financial obligations in the other. While the causes of this are many, among them is a fundamental lack of understanding of how to reduce the amount of money needed to borrow for college.

Let’s take a look at some proven strategies. 

Apply for as Much Free Money as Possible

Millions of dollars of grants and scholarships go unclaimed each year. Before applying for loans, file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. While you’re at it, seek and apply for every scholarship you see — whether you think you’ll qualify for it or not. 

Nobody ever says yes to a question that goes unasked. 

Begin your college career by asking everyone in the business of giving away money for every dollar you’ll need. Just as there’s no such thing as a stupid question, there’s no such thing as a ridiculous application for a grant or a scholarship. 

In other words, let people tell you no; don’t say no to yourself by not applying. 

Earn College Credits Before You Enroll

Every credit you get before you go to college is a credit you’ll get at a discount.

Take advanced placement exams, go to your local community college for as many transferable courses as you can find. Yes, community colleges do cost more now than they did in the past, however they’re still bargains compared to four-year schools. 

Talk to a counselor at the university from which you’d like to graduate while you’re still in high school to find out what you can earn and bring along before you get there. By the way, nobody ever asks where you started college; they’re only concerned about the institution from which you earned your degree. Going the community college route and transferring can save you many thousands of dollars. 

Work Your Way Through School

Half the costs of going to a public college away from home are for living expenses. Paying for a place to live and transportation typically top the list, followed closely by textbooks and day-to-day costs. 

Working part time during the regular term and full-time during the summer months can offset those costs, while earning you valuable work experience as well. You’ll graduate with fewer bills and a thicker resume — particularly if you can secure employment in an area pertinent to your career goal. 

Pay As You Go

Some schools allow tuition to be paid on an installment basis while students are attending classes. This can go a long way toward eliminating post-graduation debt, as it prevents the build-up of interest that accompanies private student loans when deferment programs are accepted. 

As these Freedom Debt Relief reviews illustrate, compounded interest can easily make debts of any kind unmanageable. Toward that same end, if you do have to take student loans, ask about the possibility of making interest-only payments while you’re in school. Many organizations permit this for private student loans. 

Budget Carefully

Do everything possible to determine exactly how much money you’ll need to get through school. A Harris Poll conducted on the subject found 48 percent of undergraduate borrowers realized after graduation they could have borrowed less money and afforded their education just the same.

Every excess dollar you borrow is a dollar upon which excess interest will be charged. You don’t have to borrow a set amount just because that’s what the lender is willing to provide. Borrow only what you’ll actually need. 

Meanwhile, make a concerted effort to economize in every way you can. It is far better to be a “starving” student than it is to be a starving graduate because you have to scale a Mount Everest of debt. 

And, that’s how to reduce the amount you’ll need to borrow for college. 

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