The student loan debt situation has spiraled out of control, with many college students saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. The costs of higher education are ever rising, and more students are questioning the decision to take on debt for their education. With no relief for the student loan crisis in sight, many parents wonder how they can put their kids through college for free, or at least minimize the costs. There are many free or low-cost student education options that will allow you to give your kids a quality education without sticking them with debt.
Start Earning Credits Early
Ask your high school guidance counselor about how your student can earn college credits while still in high school. Many schools offer these programs, and your child will have a head start on college-level work before he ever sets foot on campus. Since these courses are offered through your high school, you get the added benefit of free tuition for your child’s college coursework.
In addition to taking college-level courses, many schools partner with local colleges and may offer programs to take part-time courses at the college as well. Either way, with college credit hours costing hundreds of dollars, even a few will add up.
Start at a Junior College
Even if your child is planning to eventually attend a four-year university, starting at a community college can save thousands of dollars. By taking general education studies at a community college and transferring the credit to the university, you can save on tuition for the first two years of college. The quality of the education will be the same. Freshman math teaches the same basic concepts, regardless of the institution. Where you get your final degree is more important than where you took your entry level English and math courses.
And don’t snub junior colleges or state school entirely. Unless you’re after a specialized degree or need to attend a program that is only offered at some schools, in many cases where you obtained the degree will be less important than how well you do in class and what kind of experience you can get before graduating. Think about it. Even if you you were earn a couple thousand less in salary because you didn’t go to an expensive private college, that wouldn’t mean much if it also meant you didn’t have over $100,000 in student loans to pay off.
Get Scholarships and Grants
There are scholarships available for almost every subject, area of interest, and category. Even if your child is not strong academically or athletically inclined, there are scholarships that can defray the cost of a college education. Check with your employer, business organizations, and within your community. Sure, you won’t find a full ride, but collecting a few thousand in scholarships here and there, every year, will defray a nice chunk of tuition costs. Apply early and often and take advantage of any free money to pay for college.
Cut Back and Save
Allowing your child to get a part time summer job and save for college is a great way to teach financial responsibility as well as cut down on tuition costs. Take the earnings and deposit them in an interest bearing account set aside for college. Find the accounts with the best interests rates that will earn the highest yield for your money. Cut back on expenses and slash fees. Shop around for the best credit card offer and use the savings to fund a college education. And don’t forget 529 plan. Even if you get a late start, the tax advantage will still help, and every little bit counts. There’s money to be had, but you may have to work for it.
And I can’t stress getting a job enough. In the years leading up to college I worked my butt off after school during the week and on weekends. Then once in college I found a flexible campus job that paid well and allowed me to still get the study time I needed to do well. And while everybody else was off partying all summer I was working full-time. This is helpful on many fronts. It builds a solid work ethic, you gain valuable experience, and it puts money in the bank to help pay for college.
There are many ways to save for a college education and avoid going into massive debt. By saving early and often and taking advantage of free tuition programs, your student will excel in college without debt.
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.