From Special Guest Blogger, Mackenzie Cin

After high school, many students are filled with vigor. Excited for their new college life, they choose a place that fulfills all of their wishes. Between tuition, housing, and educational materials, college can cost an average of $25,000-$50,000. The pursuit of a higher education can leave students in loads of debt. Many 4-year public and private college graduates end their educational career with between $25,000-$33,000 of debt. This means that many people are still paying off college debt well into the middle of their lives. Taking an average of 18.5 years to completely eradicate these loans, individuals carry this burden for much of their adulthood. However, there are many ways to avoid such issues and get a higher education while continuing to maintain financial stability.

In-state colleges have lower tuition, comparable programs for most majors, and some of the best options for students looking to go to college on a budget. They offer an excellent education at about half the cost of out-of-state tuition. Although many public and private 4-year colleges are still very expensive, staying in state will lower the cost to something more manageable. Exploring this route alone will not help you graduate with zero debt but in-state tuition is much lower and still offers a positive experience. Another reason to choose an in-state college is that the state’s high schools will gear a student’s schedule toward the general education requirements and prerequisites needed to gain admittance into that same state’s colleges. This means that if a student takes the accredited classes offered at their high school, they may have already completed the recommended courses needed to gain admission to the universities in their state.

Finishing your first two years at a community college is also a great way to achieve a degree while saving money. Completing the General Education requirements at a lower cost will allow the student to be more financially secure and incur less debt. After that, a student may also have a clearer idea of the major they would like to pursue so that they won’t have to waste money on classes that don’t support their passion. Community college is a great alternative because, as an incoming junior, students will have had enough time to pick the college that is right for them. It also provides an opportunity to make themselves look more favorable to a 4-year college. The only catch with transferring is to ensure that the courses you take are accepted and transferable to the 4-year college. Another important point to know about inexpensive community colleges (CC) and smaller colleges in general, is that many have partnerships with larger, more prestigious colleges. Not only will these colleges automatically admit a student after they complete their first two years at the CC but, after completing the rest of their studies, the student will graduate with a degree from the more distinguished college.

Lastly, one of the most beneficial options for saving money on tuition is taking AP and dual enrollment classes during your high school years. This path allows students to earn the basic credits they would otherwise need to complete in their first two years of college. Instead, enrolling in AP classes in high school can cut 1-3 years off the total time it takes to get a degree and, in some cases, can allow a student to take higher level classes once they get into college. Most universities accept some form of AP credit. According to the College Board, AP’s in the fields of math, science, and world languages usually gain students the most credit if a 4 or 5 is earned on the AP test. However, almost every AP can earn credit if you find the right school. This is a great way to pick the college best suited to your future. Using the search engine built into the College Board’s website, you can identify the schools that will give you the most credit for the AP’s you have completed. Then, you can visit the college’s website to help you find more information about the specific courses needed to graduate with your intended major. From there, you can choose the AP classes that will help you earn the credits you need. Dual enrollment classes work in a similar way. Taking classes at a local community college is much cheaper and sometimes these courses are offered free of charge to public school students. Making use of resources such as these can be really helpful when trying to cut down on tuition costs. If a student knows they will need to take certain basic classes, they can use dual enrollment to get them out of the way ahead of time, allowing the student to enter college more prepared and at a higher level. Depending on the credits earned from either of these pathways, undergraduates can enter college at either a sophomore or junior level. Not only does this cut down the cost of tuition but it is also a great way to accelerate taking the courses of real interest to the student.

In conclusion, there is not one thing a student can do to graduate with no debt but each strategy helps to keep the bottom line more manageable. Using all of these tips to plan ahead can help to minimize the cost of college and everything that comes with it. It takes a lot of hard work and research, which may seem difficult, but if you use the resources offered, whether that is through school or on your own, it will be worth it. Although it may seem early, starting as a freshman in high school planning out, and understanding the college system can be vital to learning the steps you need to take to graduate with the degree you want. You’ll be one step closer to living the life you want to have in the future.