The cost of college keeps rising, and many students are turning to student loans to help them afford their schooling. Unfortunately, this means many graduate with crushing debt. In fact, with outstanding student loans surpassing $1 trillion, many are questioning whether a college education is worth the high costs.
Fortunately, with some planning, it’s possible for you to help your child minimize the student debt associated with a university education.
1. Start saving now. No matter your child’s age, now is the time to start saving. One option is to use a tax-advantaged account, such as a 529 plan or a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA), to help boost your savings with savvy investments. You can also encourage your student to save some of his or her own money toward the cause. No matter where you keep the money, the earlier you start saving, the less your student will need to borrow later.
2. Apply for scholarships and grants. Free money for school is out there. If your family has a relatively low income, your child might qualify for grants. Scholarships are also available, and many schools offer scholarships based on financial need as well as merit.
If you want your child to prepare for scholarships, you can encourage him or her to maintain good grades and to be involved with a variety of extracurricular activities and service projects. It’s not just about getting straight As; schools and other organizations that award scholarships like to see well-rounded students. A solid 3.7 GPA may garner your child scholarships, but he or she will also need outside activities to round out the high school experience.
Don’t forget about smaller scholarships offered by various organizations, such as civic clubs and retail giants. Start applying while your child is a junior in high school—he or she may be able to use these small scholarships to build up an amount large enough to offset the need for student loans.
3. Consider on-campus jobs. If your student can handle part-time work while attending school, he or she could further reduce the need for loans. In fact, the right on-campus job can go a long way. I worked in the cafeteria my first two years of college. That meant one or two free meals each day. I made money and I didn’t have to spend as much on food. Later, I became a resident adviser, and I ended up with a free room and a stipend. There was no need to borrow for housing expenses when I lived on campus for free.
Some off-campus companies offer tuition reimbursement to student workers as well. While a call center job might not be fun, it is one of the best jobs when it comes to stable hours and tuition reimbursement programs. Find out what’s available, and encourage your child to apply for reasonable jobs.
By combining these strategies, it’s possible to minimize the need for borrowing when it’s time for your student to go to college.
Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer and professional blogger specializing in personal finance, family finance and business topics. She writes for several online and offline publications. Miranda is the co-author of Community 101: How to Grow an Online Community, and the writer behind PlantingMoneySeeds.com.