Student Loans

I’m a 21-year-old senior in college and this year, I’ll be graduating without any student loans. Yes, you read that correctly. I have not had to take out a single loan since I’ve been in college. It’s important to note that I don’t come from a wealthy family, but between financial aid, scholarships and working part-time (and full-time during the summer), I’ve been able to attend college full-time without taking any breaks. I understand that not everyone is able to attend college without taking out some sort of loan, so I compiled a few tips for keeping those loans as low as possible.

FAFSA is Everything
Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is an essential step for anyone planning to attend college. The FAFSA form takes care of it all because as an applicant, you’re considered for every form of financial aid that exists out there. To learn about FAFSA deadlines, different filling options and other information, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Apply Non-stop for Scholarships
I cannot stress the importance of applying for as many scholarships/grants as possible. Sure, the application process can be time-consuming, but if you win, it’s free money that you don’t have to pay back, and many scholarships/grants go unused each year, so why not apply for as many as you can? Some useful websites include www.scholarships.com, www.fastweb.com and www.mycollegedollars.com. Also, be sure to check with your university to see what other scholarships/grants are available.

Tip: Often times, universities have left-over money from the fall/winter semesters and award summer grants to students, which can be incredibly helpful if you take summer classes.

Rent or Purchase Used Textbooks
I wasted so much money on textbooks ($500 each semester to be exact) during my first two years in college. And just in case you’re wondering, I’ve reduced that amount to $95 (not bad, huh?) thanks to Chegg (www.chegg.com), an academic company that offers affordable textbook rentals and free return shipping when the semester ends. In addition to Chegg, I recommend buying used copies of textbooks as well as older editions with the approval of your professor, of course. I once purchased a used, older edition of a textbook for a penny from www.amazon.com, another website I rely on to find great deals on textbooks.

Tip: At the end of each semester, I return any textbooks I purchased on Amazon using their Trade-In program because you can mail in your textbooks at no charge in exchange for an Amazon.com gift card, which I prefer to use toward future textbook purchases.

Work Overtime During the Summer
In college, it can be incredibly difficult and stressful juggling classes, work, extracurricular activities and not to mention, your social life. Adding more hours to your already-hectic schedule during the fall/winter semesters is often unrealistic and overwhelming. That’s why many students (with me being one of them) work like a maniac during the summer by taking on anywhere from 35-40 (or more) hours per week. With all the extra money I earn over the summer, I use it to help pay a portion of my tuition for the upcoming fall semester.

Go At a Slower Pace
Last but not least, and believe me, I understand this option might be unrealistic for many of you (I know it certainly is for me), but many students attend college part-time to avoid taking out loans, which drags out a four-year degree to six or seven years. Of course, it’s not for everybody, but it’s certainly an option.

Clutchettes, what tips do YOU have for keeping student debt low? 

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  • Don’t take more than you need!

  • I’m a third-year student who takes out loans at a predominantly-white all women’s liberal-arts school. And all of this advice sounds dandy, but it’s much more complicated than that. They always throw up the statistic that scholarships go to waste, but what people fail to realize is that not all scholarships are accessible to everyone. A lot of scholarships are geared toward STEM fields, not saying that there aren’t for other fields. And when you enter undergraduate and especially post-graduate, applying for scholarships becomes way more difficult than when you were in high school.

    Let’s throw in class and GPA. In high school, my GPA wasn’t bad but it wasn’t like a 3.5 and greater (even though 3.5 is still considered low with prestigious institutions). I had to work to provide for myself, and also study at the same time, thus my grades weren’t too hot but I did okay for myself. Most scholarships are GPA-based and if you have a student who’s smart but had to bust their ass to help their family and has a 2.7, then the availability of aid isn’t that great.

    Now I still work and I’m a full-time student. Honestly, with my rigorous course load and work-I just don’t have the time to apply for a lot of scholarships. At best maybe 10 for the academic year. For me, I have a greater chance of focusing on my academic work to get a higher GPA and thus post-grad fellowship versus applying for scholarships, working, and letting my coursework suffer.

    And also how scholarships are allocated depends on the institution. Let’s say I got 2,500 but I get about $24,000 in grants for the academic year from my host school. Before they apply it to the loan aid, they’ll take it first out of the grants, which is pretty fucked up. So you have to take out loans no matter what because you can’t just not report the scholarship money.

    So yea, I could of went to a state school, but I would’ve ended up paying the same amount that I would pay in loans without the benefits of an extensive alumnae network and fellowships with Harvard, Columbia, and MIT, and vast amounts of funding for research opportunities.

  • Sandy

    Does not apply to graduate students

  • AJ

    You don’t say

  • mikey kun

    As a person going from a technical school to a college this article and a few comments are really helpful, thanks.