Help your teenagers start their adult lives and careers with little or no debt! Here are some tips on how to help your kids graduate without college debt: (and why they should)!
You want your kids to go to college, get a good job, and be a successful member of society, right? While getting a college degree can be very helpful, student-loan debt is not.
Long before your child is stepping out the door to head off to college, you need to take a close look at these tips for ways to help your kid graduate debt-free (and reasons why he should!).
Before Going to College:
In order to help your child graduate without college debt, start years before he or she will even apply to college with several of these tips:
Start Saving Money Now!
Set up a savings account for your baby as soon as he’s born. Then add to it frequently.
The birthday cash gift from grandma? Put the money in a savings account!
That weekend babysitting job? Put the money in a savings account!
You get the picture.
Get Excellent Grades in High School
Encourage your teen to get excellent grades and high ACT/SAT scores while in high school. This can help him get scholarships and grants and entrance into the college of his choice.
He should also choose 1 or 2 extracurricular activities to participate and excel in, as this will also help.
Take College Courses While in High School
In a few states (WA, HI, NH, MT, IL), high school juniors and seniors can enroll in college courses (for FREE!) and gain credits for both college and high school at the same time. (Note: You have to buy books and may have to pay other activity fees.) This program is called “Running Start.”
If your student is savvy and determined, she can start taking all college classes at the beginning of her junior year in high school and graduate high school with an AA at the same time (did I mention, it’s FREE?) and thus save 2 years of college tuition.
I took a few Running Start classes when I was a high school senior and I enjoyed it!
Attend Community College First
Community colleges are less expensive and most credits should transfer to any 4-year institution. Check with your advisor ahead of time to be sure.
After you complete 2 years of basic classes (and have your Associate in Arts (AA)), you can transfer to a 4-year university.
I attended a local community college to receive an AA and my advisor worked with me to make sure all my credits would easily transfer.
Pick an Affordable School
This can be hard if your teen has her heart set on a particular school. Weigh the pros and cons and write out a budget of anticipated costs at each school.
Yes, a diploma from Harvard sounds prestigious, but in the long run, it doesn’t really matter. Potential employers will look at your teen’s degree, grades, work ethic, and personality. Attending a college in-state can save a lot of money as well.
Dig Around for Scholarships
When your teen is a junior have him start looking up scholarships and applying.
Don’t discount “small” scholarships. Obtaining a lot of small scholarships can add up to a big amount. Although $500 or $1000 may not seem like a lot compared to your yearly tuition if you have several of these scholarship amounts that can be a big chunk out of the cost of a semester. There are a ton of scholarships out there – many go unused.
Some time ago, I read an article about a determined teen who applied to numerous scholarships of different amounts (many small) while she was in high school and ended up receiving enough money to pay for her entire college tuition!
Try to think outside the standard-four-year-college box.
If your teen has an interest in a particular field, encourage her to seek out an apprenticeship. This can be a great way to gain on-the-job training while earning money!
Always Apply for Financial Aid
Make sure to always fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year as soon as possible before the deadline. This is the form used to apply for financial aid (including grants, work-study, and loans) through the federal government. Although you need to pay back any loans you accept, you do not have to pay back grants (yay!).
After I received my AA, I transferred schools and started attending a four-year college and applied for financial aid with the FAFSA and happily received several grants (because I was past the age to be considered on my parents taxes – a possible reason to postpone college for a bit.)
Take a “Gap Year”
Encourage your teen to take a “Gap Year” – delay starting college for a year or two. He can use this time to work, save money, and think about what he really wants to do with his life.
Don’t Go to College Until You Are Absolutely Sure What You Want to Study
You don’t want your teen to waste money on an education studying something that she doesn’t really like. There’s nothing wrong with waiting a while before going to college! He can work and save money, try an internship or research job fields he’s interested in (while working and saving money!).
Think Outside the Box
Does your teen have some interesting skills, interests, or talents? Maybe he could start a business or she could join a trade school instead?
Take a Few Online Classes First
Instead of heading straight to a four-year university, your teenager can take a few online classes to discover her interests or complete required freshman core subjects. She can even work full time while taking an online class!
Estimate What It Will Cost to Pay Back Loans
This simple online calculator can help your teenager figure out what his monthly payments would be as well as how much he will end up paying in interest.
Join the Military
Depending on how long you enlist and when you complete college, you can have your entire tuition paid for.
Even a small, part-time job will help.
For example, if you live on campus, be an RA, get a summer job, or work in the library.
Keep a Budget
You should teach your teen budgeting skills way before he heads off to college and encourage him to continue budgeting for the rest of his life.
Related: 11 Money Management Tips for Teens
Avoid Credit Cards
You definitely need to have several in-depth discussions on credit cards with your teenager.
Find Ways to Cut Costs
- Buy used books and clothes.
- Leave the car at home and use public transportation.
- Eat meals in your dorm room.
If possible, take extra classes (or summer classes) in order to graduate on time (or early) – thus saving money.
Yes, you can start paying your loans while attending college. I did this when I was getting my Masters. I paid a few hundred dollars a month on the loan before I even finished and then aggressively paid them off very soon after graduation.
Related: Tips to Pay Off Debt Fast
Live at Home
If your teen goes to a nearby university (or community college), he can live at home to cut costs on housing and food.
After College Graduation:
The goal is to have your son or daughter graduate without college debt. However, if he or she does have some student loans after graduating, don’t despair! Here are some tips to pay that loan down fast.
Pay More Than the Monthly Amount
Never pay only the minimum amount on a loan. Always pay extra as much as you can. Doing this will get rid of the loan faster and help you avoid paying more interest in the long run.
Loan Forgiveness Programs
Have a Second Side Gig or Part Time Job
Grab a second part-time (or weekend or seasonal) job to make extra money to pay off the loan sooner.
Find Ways to Cut Costs
Yes, you had to cut costs during college, but keep it up afterward as well. Don’t rush out to buy a new car, get a fancy apartment, and eat out every day. Find little ways to cut costs now so you can pay off the loan fast and save money for future fun!
Related: Things We Quit Buying to Save Money
Why you should help your kid to try and avoid student-loan debt:
- Save Money for a Big Purchase
Instead of paying on loans, you can put that money in a savings account to make a downpayment on a house or to buy a car.
- Student Loan Debt Can Stay with You a Loooooong Time
I graduated from college 10+ years ago and I have college friends who are still paying on their loans!
- Free to Do What You Want
No student loan payments (or other major debt)? Then you can:
Take a lower-paying job that you really enjoy instead of a high paying stressful job in order to make monthly loan payments
Even though it seems contrary to popular belief, I actually DO think that it’s possible for students to graduate without college debt and having to pay back hefty student loans. It may take quite a bit of planning and some innovative ideas, but be determined, start early and your teen can begin his adult life without heavy debt! Did I miss any important tips? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.