We all know that college is expensive, but there are things you can do right now to improve your chances of graduating from college without huge debt.
- Make school your priority. Many colleges award merit aid to students who have a strong academic record. In some cases, this can reduce your tuition by thousands of dollars a year. So, make sure you are taking rigorous courses and working to get the best grades possible. (Being involved in school activities and/or organizations can be a plus as well.)
- Put your heart into something. There are amazing scholarships available for students who have demonstrated a passion for helping their community. Students who take initiative to address a need in their community – and enlist others to join them – are far more likely to receive these scholarships.
- Keep an open mind. Most people have a “dream” school, but if attending that school means you will end up with a mountain of debt, it’s likely to be more of a nightmare. Consider attending a lesser-known private college, a local public college or a college in your region that offers a tuition reduction to students of neighboring states. You may also want to consider starting at a community or junior college. (This can be a good option for students who have limited resources because it can be much less expensive and may allow you the flexibility you need to hold down a job.
- Commit yourself to applying for scholarships. Make it a habit to search and apply for scholarships you are qualified for. Be sure to especially look for local scholarships. (For students reading this in Washington State, you need to check out The WashBoard.) Find out where to look for scholarships awarded specifically to students from your school. Investigate whether your parent’s employer or your church offers one. Remember: there is no such thing as a scholarship that is too small to bother with. They all add up to money you don't have to pay back.
- Make your own financial commitment. Whether it’s birthday money or pay from your job, decide what percentage you will put away for college – and stick to it. You’ll be glad you did.