There are currently 44.2 million Americans with a combined student loan debt of $1.48 trillion.
The average millennial is going to graduate with $37,000 in student loan debt. These numbers are increasing every year.
Sadly, not a whole lot is being done to educate people on how to save money on college costs.
Most people don't even understand how student loans work, so they take out the full amount awarded to them and spend the extra money on things that are not school related.
Save yourself a lot of time, money, and stress by following the steps below.
1. Apply for scholarships
Most people end up not applying for scholarships because they don't know where to find them.
Scholarship Owl helps students break that barrier by applying for thousands of scholarships with just one application. All you have to do is fill out an application, and Scholarship Owl will find scholarships you are eligible for.
One scholarship saved me almost $8,000 one year.
Also, every school hands out their own scholarships as well.
For example, my college awards scholarships for transfer students, students with high GPA's, and more.
To find out which scholarships your school offers, type in your school following the word scholarships. So, if you went to the University of Chicago, you would type in “University of Chicago scholarships”.
Don't assume that your college is going to grant you these scholarships. You need to apply for them. I had a friend who didn't apply for a scholarship they were 100% qualified for which could've saved them $3,000 per year.
2. Complete general education classes at Community College
Before enrolling in college, I decided to take my general education courses at a local community college. My community college was charging $97 per credit hour, which saved me a ton of money compared to the average school charging $600 per credit hour.
I took the majority of my classes online, which also saved me time and money on transportation costs. I was able to work a full-time job, which ultimately led me to pay off my car and build a solid emergency fund.
Before enrolling in community college, make sure your future college or university accepts courses from your community college.
Most colleges and universities offer a transfer scholarship which can range up to $5,000 per year depending on which school you are going to.
3. Go to school with the end in mind
Often times you'll hear advice from people telling you to go to school even if you don't know what to major in.
I mean, how are you supposed to know what you want to do with your life when you're a junior or senior in high school?
If you have no idea what you want to do once you graduate high school, take a gap year.
In the United States, gap years aren't common, but in Europe, gap years are quite traditional.
Malia (Obama's daughter) was accepted to Harvard, but before she starts, she's taking a gap year.
Harvard not only allows their students to take a break before enrolling in school, but they encourage it.
During a gap year, travel, volunteer, work various jobs and spend time in several different career fields.
Even if you already know what you want to do, taking a gap year can give you time to reflect and gain life experiences. Instead of going straight to college, teach English abroad for a year. Launch a blog and get experience working online. Walk dogs in your free time. Become a Certified Personal Trainer and either offer your services online or in person. I did all 4! (Taught English as an au pair).
4. Rent textbooks
Never buy textbooks unless your professor says you absolutely need to. If you do buy your textbooks, sell them back to your school, on Craigslist, or to a textbook rental website.
Below are a few websites I have personally used to rent textbooks:
I've rented for as little as $10 and at most $50 for a semester term.
5. Live off campus
Living off campus means you aren't living in a dorm, but instead with your parents or in a shared apartment.
Dorms are overpriced, cramped, and sharing a bathroom with tons of other people isn't that cool, actually.
Save some money and get a shared apartment with other students at your school. Most schools should have information on shared rooms in complexes off campus.
Living off campus poses a ton of benefits (although living on campus has many benefits as well).
When you live off campus, you're more independent. You don't have to follow nearly as many rules as students do in dorms.
You also save thousands of dollars per year, while also getting your own room.
6. Become a cook
Instead of signing up for a meal plan at your school (which is ridiculously overpriced by the way), learn how to cook your own meals.
You can use $5 Meal Plan (free 14-day trial) which sends you a meal plan and shopping list for only $5 a month. You'll learn how to cook healthy and delicious meals while also saving a ton of money and time at the grocery store. No thinking is involved, just follow the plan.
While shopping for your groceries, make sure to use Ibotta (you get $10 when you sign up, too!). Ibotta is a free app that is used by me and hundreds of FITnancials readers. I hate clipping coupons, but with Ibotta, all you have to do is log on to the app, find out which foods you want and click redeem, and then take a photo of the receipt through the Ibotta app. SO EASY.
Also, stop buying coffee at school or at Starbucks for $5 every single day. It's okay to do once in awhile, but you might as well invest in a Keurig for under $80 and reusable pods. This will save you hundreds of dollars each semester, and you don't even have to give up your coffee habit.
7. Only take out the amount you need
This is probably the most important tip on this list.
When you get your financial aid electronic award letter, you can customize how much money you actually need.
Instead of accepting the full amount, calculate how much you need every semester to pay off your classes and textbooks.
If you aren't sure how much you need, set up an appointment with a financial aid counselor at your school.
It may sound tempting to accept the full amount and spend the extra money on shopping or travel, but this will end up biting you in the butt once you graduate. Interest fees on student loans are no joke and you don't want to be drowning in student loan debt once you graduate.
Many of you have asked me how much debt I have. While some may think that's a personal question or rude to ask, I don't think it is at all. Finances shouldn't be more taboo than sex.
I'm currently on track to graduate with around $15,000 in student loan debt. That $15,000 will include approximately 5 years of being in school.
I do not have credit card debt, nor do I have car payments, and I am on track to pay off the rest of my school year out of pocket with my blog earnings.
Question time: If you're currently in college or about to enroll, how do you plan on saving money on college costs? If you already graduated, can you share in the comments what you've done to save money?
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How did you or do you save money on college costs?
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