If there’s one thing that all Millennials and Gen Xers know, it’s that student loans really and truly do suck. Compared to our parents’ generation — ugh, or even our grandparents’ generation — college is significantly more expensive. And with student loans being the only way some of us can afford to go to college, it can feel like we’re signing away our lives and income for the next 30 years.
Whether you’re about to start college, are in your last year, never thought you could afford it, have a kid who’s about to start college, is in their last year, never thought they could afford it, or know a kid who’s about to start blah, blah, blah, you get the idea — college is always expensive. Here are 8 resources we’ve found to help you pay for school and avoid student loans.
- Take AP tests
SAT and ACT scores are important, but they won’t give you college credit. AP tests will. If you or your student are still in high school, take all the AP classes you qualify for, and then take the AP tests at the end. A lot of colleges take AP test scores of 4 and 5 (some even take 3s) and will give you college credit for it.
That means that you can start college with enough credits to skip a semester or more of work, if you do well on your AP tests. And that means that’s one less semester you have to pay for.
CLEP tests are another great way to earn college credit, but without having to take a full year of AP classes. If you excel in a subject that has a CLEP test, consider taking it for more college credit. Just remember, the more credits you start with, the less you have to pay for once you’re in college.
- Fill out the FAFSA
Most high schools and colleges will tell you the importance of filling out the FAFSA, but let’s take it a step further. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form you fill out, and depending on your specific situation, will give you access to free or less-expensive money for college.
Private student loans have higher interest rates and harder terms, but the FAFSA gives you access to grants — which you don’t have to pay back (yay free money!) — and government loans, which have much better terms and conditions. If you do have to take out loans, go with government loans over private ones if you can.
But don’t think that the FAFSA is a one-and-done kinda deal. Fill it out every year that you’re in college — your personal situation will fluctuate year-to-year, which means that you might be suddenly eligible for more grants and funding.
- Live at home
If you’re going to a school within driving or public transport distance of your parent’s home, consider side-stepping the dorm or apartment life and say home. While it might cut down a bit on your independence and ability to party, you’ll end up saving a ridiculous amount of money.
Depending on the school you go to, room and board could cost you between $10,800-$12,210. Now, even if you live at home for a year or two before moving into your own college pad with three roommates, that’s a significant chunk of change you won’t have to take loans out for.
There is no rule out there that says you have to attend all 4 years at the same college or university, especially if it’s a private or Ivy League school. In fact, you can save a whole lot of money if you take all your gen-ed requirements at a local community college and then transfer to your dream school for the real important classes for your major.
So maybe start taking some community college classes when you’re done with high school (or maybe even before you graduate — some high schools let you take college classes for high school credit, and they’ll transfer) and save some serious green.
- Graduate in more (or fewer) than 4 years
Again, there are no rules that say how long you have to attend college. Four years is the average, but there’s nothing stopping you for taking longer. If you go to school part time, it’ll take you longer to graduate, but you can work more and earn more so you don’t have to take out more loans.
Similarly, you can find accelerated programs that allow you to graduate earlier. Often called “degree in 3” programs, you can graduate early and save a whole year’s worth of tuition. And paying less is always a good thing, right?
- Ask for more grants
Just because you’re offered a specified amount in grant or scholarship money doesn’t mean you can’t get more. I mean, if your dad is anything like my dad, then you know that “You’ll never know if you don’t ask.” So why not ask?
Schools and the government offer grants and scholarships to a number of students, and not all of them take it. Some students decide to go to a different school, or not attend at all, or use another source to pay. And when that happens, it frees up money for other students.
So take a shot. Ask for more. The worse they can say is no.
- Pay in installments
Colleges like to get their money up front each semester. It gives them more to play with during the year. But most colleges also offer payment plans to their students. This way, you don’t have to pay a giant lump sum all at once at the start of the semester when you don’t necessarily have it.
Paying in installments could help you afford the tuition — or more of the tuition — in smaller chunks. And the more you can afford to pay yourself, the more you can avoid loans.
- Get a part time job — now
A lot of college students have part time jobs. And a lot of high school kids have part time jobs. But not as many high school students get part time jobs specifically to help pay for college. And why is that? Even making minimum wage and only working a few hours a week during the school year and more in the summer, you’d be surprised how much of a difference those funds can make.
I mean, when I was in high school, I worked about 12 hours a week during the school year and 24 during the summer at $7.50/hour, and by the time I got to college, I’d saved nearly $8,000, which made a big difference. Now this was… some… years ago, so things might be different now, but hey, money is money right?
Student loans are often portrayed as the end of the world, but they don’t have to be. Stick it to the man by taking advantage of these 8 resources to help you or your student avoid student loans and graduate with a head start.