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How to Finish College Without Being Forever in Debt

Ana-Marcela Lopez

The decision to finish college is influenced by several factors, one of the most important being how much it will cost. College is infamously expensive, so it’s no wonder why the thought of taking out student loans might hold you back. In fact, Forbes Magazine reports that, among 44 million borrowers, there is an astonishing $1.5 trillion owed. Student debt can be a huge burden to bear, but there are ways to finish college without crippling debt. Here are a few steps you can take to reduce the cost of finishing your degree.   

Complete Your Degree Online:

Colleges are becoming increasingly accessible and flexible by offering degrees completely online. Completing a degree online is a great way to reduce initial the initial cost of attendance, as tuition rates for online courses are generally hundreds of dollars cheaper than courses on campus. As an online student, you are not responsible for paying for room and board, meal plans, or expensive technology fees, which drastically reduces the overall cost of attendance.

Many online programs offer unique benefits and advising to online students, and a large number of courses are taught by the same professors who teach on-campus classes. Online courses also offer greater flexibility, giving you the ability to incorporate your college education into your personal and professional life.

Start at a Community College:

If online schooling isn’t right for you, you still have options to reduce the cost of your education. Community colleges are a great starting point toward a bachelor’s degree. The 2+2 plan, which refers to the common practice of attending a community college for two years and then transferring to a four-year university, is a great way to avoid student debt.  

According to CollegeBoard, tuition at community colleges is, on average, half of what four-year universities charge. This means you can take some of your general education courses—such as math, science, and English—at a discounted rate, saving time and money for your major-specific courses at a four- university. Starting your path to a degree at a community college will save you money in the long run, and you’ll receive the same degree as your classmates who attended the same university all four years.

Opt For In-State Tuition:

When you transfer to a four-year university, consider attending one in the state you reside in; most public colleges and universities tuition rates that differ for residents and non-residents. According to a report from the George Washington University Graduate School of Education & Human Development, “the average tuition for an in-state student at a public school for an undergraduate student was $6,752,” while out-of state tuition at a public school averaged $15,742. “On average, it cost $8,990 more for students to attend a college or university in a state where they are not a resident.”

 

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Apply For Scholarships + Grants:

Scholarships and grants are forms of gift aid that are given to the recipient to help pay for college-related expenses that do not need to be repaid. There are millions of dollars worth of grants and scholarships ready to be awarded to deserving students. Grants, typically awarded by the government based on a student’s demonstrated need, include such commonly known awards as the Federal Pell Grant as well as thousands of others available to all types of students. The first step to qualifying for federal grants is filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Beyond federal aid, the College Grants Database can be a great place to start exploring and applying for grants you are eligible for.

Scholarships are another form of financial aid that does not require repayment. These are typically awarded by corporations, non-profit organizations, and other individual entities. Depending on the nature of the scholarship, you might be required to submit an essay or personal statement explaining why you qualify for the gift. There are hundreds of scholarships awarded to adult students, so take a look at the College Scholarships database to start applying.

Seek Employer Reimbursement:

Finishing college is a great way to keep up in the ever-changing job market, and employers recognize the value in a degree or certificate. It’s becoming more and more common for major companies to offer tuition reimbursement programs for their employees, so talk to your employer and see whether they offer similar programs. If they don’t, consider pitching the option to your boss. Your value as an experienced professional will only increase when you get your degree.

College doesn’t have to be a crippling burden, and you have an infinite amount of resources available to lessen your investment. Always make sure to reach out, ask questions, and keep your eyes peeled for ways to finance your education.

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