Working your way through college can provide precious work experience and valuable life lessons while teaching you the importance of budgeting your time, money, and more. However, it also presents its share of challenges along the way.
College today is an investment. Depending on the college you wish to attend, the investment can easily exceed that of a starter home, which is why so many students finish their college experience deeply in debt. Working your way through college can help you reduce the debt load you leave college with, putting you in a better position to overcome common financial obstacles that other graduates face in trying to repay their college loans.
However, working your way through college is only beneficial if you do it in combination with other efforts to reduce your costs of attending college at the same time.
Reducing the Cost of College
There are several moves you can make to reduce the overall costs of attending college as you work your way through school, including the following:
- Seek out scholarships. Apply for every scholarship for which you feel qualified. You will be amazed at the number of scholarships available that go unrewarded due to the lack of applicants.
- Take advantage of grants. There are federal grants for college such as the federal Pell Grant program, as well as state, and sometimes school grants. Grants are the type of scholarship that does not have to be repaid and is often renewable as long as you maintain a certain GPA.
- Consider online classes. Not only do online classes offer a better price point than attending college at a traditional university setting, but they are also more flexible, allowing you to accommodate a busy work schedule while getting your education.
- Attend less expensive colleges. Most states offer state-funded colleges and universities as well as community colleges (at even greater cost reductions). Community colleges often specialize in the trades or lower-level general education requirements. Attending a community college allows you to transfer those inexpensive credits to a more expensive university for your junior and senior years. If that is the plan, you will want to make sure that the credits you take at your community college are accepted at your target university.
- Stay in-state for college. Attending a state college in your home state is, by far, the most financially advantageous thing you can do. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, private college tuition hovers at the $35,000 mark, while in-state tuition rests just over $25,000. That's a difference of approximately $10,000 per year for tuition and fees (not counting room and board).
- Live at home while in college. According to The Atlantic, the costs of room and board can exceed the annual cost of tuition by 100 percent or more. Avoiding this considerable expense can free up your finances and spare you from the necessity, in many cases, of taking out student loans.
The more things you do to reduce your costs when attending college, the higher your odds of eliminating the need to take on student loan debt, which may prove to be crippling if you aren't able to immediately secure lucrative employment upon graduation.
Minimizing Student Loan Debt
Following the steps above for reducing your costs of attending college can go a long way toward minimizing student loan debt. So can working and saving the bulk of your income to put toward tuition. The more money you pay toward tuition today, without taking out student loans, the less you pay for your education overall.
However, that's not the only reason you should avoid or minimize student loans whenever possible. For almost every other type of loan, you will have the option of declaring bankruptcy or seeking relief from the burden of the debt. It works that way for homes, vehicles, and even consumer credit card debt. There is no option to discharge student loan debt. Falling behind in student loan payments will harm your credit history and can do considerable damage to your ability to purchase homes and vehicles and even secure employment later in life.
Working your way through college can be a brilliant path to success. That is especially true if you find the right employment during your educational journey. Of course, using the income from your college job, in combination with other efforts to reduce expenses, can help you avoid unnecessary student loan debt, allowing you to begin your career unencumbered by debt.