Educated Consumers

Kristine Hayes

COLLEGE STUDENTS who borrow graduate with an average $37,000 in loans. While many people believe loans are the only way to finance a college education, that’s simply not the case. Here are five ways to get an advanced education while minimizing debt:

1. Stay close to home. Sure, it’s fun to think about moving across the country to go to school. But staying close to home after high school comes with several benefits. In-state tuition rates at public universities are typically discounted at least 50% compared to rates for out-of-state students. Some states have even larger discounts. Florida, for example, offers a nearly 70% discount to residents. Want to save even more? Skip the high cost of room and board by continuing to live at home.

Can’t stomach the thought of being with or near family for four more years? Several public schools offer waivers of out-of-state fees. You’ll likely need to write an essay—and be a top-tier student—to qualify for these programs, but the cost savings are significant.

2. Comparison shop. On paper, private schools typically appear to cost more than public institutions, but it’s worth digging into the details. Private colleges and universities often have larger endowments than their public counterparts. This allows them to offer significant need- and merit-based aid packages, consisting primarily of scholarships and grants, rather than loans. It pays to apply to a wide variety of schools, so you can compare aid packages.

3. Scholarships. When paying for college, nothing beats free money. Billions of dollars in scholarships are given to college students every year. Awards may be made based on academic performance, sports participation or any number of other criteria. Churches, 4-H clubs and other groups often offer awards to young adults who are affiliated with their organizations.

Don’t overlook smaller scholarships, which may have fewer applicants. My advice: Treat applying for scholarships like a fulltime job. Forty hours spent filling out applications, which ultimately results in $10,000 of awards, equates to a tax-free income of $250 per hour.

4. Condensed degree programs. As college costs soar, some institutions are offering condensed degree programs, allowing students to graduate in less time than normally required. Students can also “fast track” their degree by forgoing part of their college social life and, instead, maximizing the number of credits they take each semester. In addition, many colleges offer accelerated courses in the summer, allowing students to rack up a number of prerequisite courses in a single six- or eight-week period.

5. Tap your employer. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs as part of their employee benefits package. If you’re interested in working in a field where the number of jobs exceeds the available workers, you may find employers are willing to pay all or part of your tuition bill in return for agreeing to work for them after graduation.

Many hospitals offer these types of programs for students interested in nursing. It’s even possible to attend medical school for free. Kaiser Permanente recently announced that the first five cohorts of students to attend its new medical school will pay no tuition. With medical doctors typically graduating with nearly $200,000 in debt, Kaiser’s program will no doubt generate significant interest.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college. Her previous articles include Nervous BridePrime of Life and School’s Out. Kristine enjoys competitive pistol shooting and hanging out with her husband and their three dogs.

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