Making College Affordable in 3 Easy Steps

Striking out on your own and moving on to bigger and better things sounds great and can be exhilarating. But the average price tag for a college education can be terrifying!

Nowadays, Joe Student is graduating from college with about $29,400 of student loan debt. That’s how we’ve reached a $1 TRILLION student debt problem that’s only getting bigger as time goes on.

So what are students and parents supposed to do? It’s becoming increasingly hard to get a job without a degree, but high student debt can actually turn potential employers off after you graduate.

Making college affordable to avoid debt problems

Step 1: Find Your Niches

You don’t have to be smart and talented to get scholarships – you just have to be creative enough to define yourself in a unique way. Sure academic scholarships and sports scholarships are well-known, well-advertised and great sources of money if you can get them.

Still, even without them you can find a weird niche or an odd thing that you do that could get you a scholarship from a smaller group or association. There are weird scholarships for being the best at duck calling or making your prom dress out of duct tape. You can get scholarships for being short, being addicted to Star Trek, being a pagan… You get the idea.

So look at your weird, wacky life and find other people in the world that like the same weird, whacked out stuff that you like – chances are good that someone has decided your “talent” deserves a financial reward for schooling.

Step 2: Go for Federal Aid

We know what you’re thinking – Federal student aid is the root of all this evil student debt in the world right now. But it’s really not. In fact, it’s your best bet for avoiding student debt problems down the road.

Yes, FAFSA is where you apply for federal student loans, and yes, federal student loans are causing a lot of problems right now. However, FAFSA doesn’t just do lending. You also need to apply through FAFSA if you want a Pell Grant, or any other kind of grant for that matter. Grants keep your debt bills down just like scholarships. You also need FAFSA for student employment opportunities.

And in truth, even federal student loans aren’t bad – you just need to make sure you’re not over-borrowing so you put yourself in a bind after graduation. Explore every other option as much as possible and then pay the rest with loans.

While we’re talking about borrowing, it’s important to note that FAFSA applications are being accepted through June of next year. HOWEVER, your state federal aid request may be due a lot sooner. Here in Florida for example, applications must be processed by May 15, 2014. FAFSA is also nice enough to make it easy to check when applications are due in your state.

Step 3: Avoid Private Loans

With all the bad press about federal student aid, your kneejerk reaction might be to go to a private lender instead, but this is actually even worse. Federal student loans can at least be consolidated through one of the programs offered by the government. Private student loans cannot.

So while you might get what seems like better terms from a private lender, keep in mind that you’ll be stuck with that amount of debt under those terms with no wiggle room or space for negotiation. You’ll be stuck paying each private loan you take out individually.

What’s more, these loans will never, ever qualify for student debt assistance, like deferment, forbearance or even loan forgiveness if you pay consistently for a period of time. Federal student loans allow for all of that.