Graduate into the Real World

Avoiding College Debt: Earning a Degree AND Financial Smarts

October 31, 2011

in Money

The Law of Gravity Exists Even On Campus

College life brings the new freedoms of adulthood, and these freedoms can be intoxicating. But when it comes to your personal finances, make sure that you don’t wake up on graduation day with a financial hangover that can take years to cure. It’s easy to live in the now, but eventually money that is blithely spent in college will need to be paid back just when the demands of a new career and possibly a new family will also exist. Here are some tips to avoid the pitfalls of school debt.

Go On the Offensive: Bring in the Income

It’s easy to accept student loans: you just sign on the line, and money difficulties get kicked years into your future. But what if you could reduce–or eliminate–student debt altogether?

• Apply For Grants

When you apply for financial aid, ensure that you are timely with that application. Some funds are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Grant money can fuel your education and doesn’t need to be repaid.

• Work Towards Scholarships

The scholarship pools that exist for incoming freshmen frequently have funding available for upperclassmen, too. This can include departmental scholarships, some exclusively for those in upper levels. The key to landing this money is your grade point average. A high enough GPA can bring money your way. Ask questions within your college’s department; what’s available?

• Part-time Work

No, really. It’s a time-honored American tradition–college students have held down part-time jobs pretty much since time immortal. Where do you find these jobs? Chances are good that your college or university has a job search board, and you can find work there. This can apply to on-campus and off-campus work alike.

Be bold, and then tenacious. If you have a favorite store, restaurant, or recreational spot, ask management if they have any openings. If need be, check back. Possible perks could include discounts (just be sure not to blow your paycheck!), and part-time work can provide valuable future career experience and life skills.

This same approach works for summertime work. Start your search early by making contacts where you’d like to work. This proactive angle can heighten your chances of finding satisfying work. If you can find a job that dovetails in general with your major, all the better.

Go On the Defensive: Don’t Hemorrhage Cash

• Almost as common as student loan paperwork are the credit-card booths strewn on campuses nationwide. The gimmick goes like this: we give you a free incentive, and we sign you up for our credit card. Multiply this scenario two or three other times, and you’ve been granted access to a lot of financial trouble. Just say “no thanks,” friend, and keep walking.

• Find simple ways to stretch your money: ask for a student discount when you’re ready to put money down, and carry your student ID card to prove this status.

• Buy second-hand textbooks; sell your books back at the end of the term.

• Opportunities for inexpensive dates abound on and around college campuses; after all, everyone is pretty much in the same financial boat.

• Is it less expensive to live on campus than in private apartments? If so, bite the bullet and go the cheaper route.  You might find yourself making long-term friendships.

• Eat healthy foods and be smart about your sleep schedule. Staying in good shape means you can save on clinic bills, and your life will go more smoothly, too.

One of the best lifetime disciplines you can pick up in college–the beginning of your adult life–is tracking what you’ve spent. Keeping tabs on your expenditures means you can avoid stressful surprises later.

Author Jenny Masterson is a college enrollment advisor and also writes for, a website providing lists and information about college degrees, such as online msn programs for nurses.

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