Financial expert, Dave Ramsey, recently reported that students are graduating college with an average loan debt of $37,172. That’s a hefty number! No one goes into college hoping to come out with loads of debt. If you’re still in high school looking towards college, or even in the midst of your college education, you may be asking: is this scenario inevitable? Is there any way to avoid taking out enormous loans? The following is a compilation of suggestions on saving and paying for college:

  • Get a job. It’s hard to save money if you aren’t making money. Even if your schedule is full with it’s possible to make several thousand dollars a year by working a summer job or just working one day a week throughout the school year. Teens ages 15-17 working part-time make an average of $4,923 per year. If you could save even half of that amount for four years you’d be putting away nearly $10,000 towards your future education! Consider setting up automated savings to get going in a positive direction right off the bat. Not only will a job give you a jump on saving money, it will help you develop good work ethic which will be valuable for the rest of your life.
  • Track your spending and learn to budget. It’s also hard to save money if all you do is spend money! Studies show that the average American teenager spends between $50-100 of their own money per week. That adds up to $2400 to $4800 per year. Around 25% of that amount is spent on fast food and coffee, 20% on clothing and 11% on video games. Try this: write down every dime you spend for several months. Identify unnecessary drains on your finances and make some cuts. For example, pack a lunch instead of eating out every day. Find activities to do with friends that don’t involve spending. Or settle for off-brand clothing instead of name-brand. Next: set a reasonable budge for yourself and stick with it. There are all kinds of great budgeting and finance tracking apps to help you stay on target with your spending.
  • Talk to your parents and set up an ESA (Educational Savings Account). Even if your family has not been able to save much towards your education, it’s never too late to start putting away money towards college. An ESA allows you to save up to $2000 per child, per year and is a tax-free account that can be used on any type of education before you turn 30.
  • Take the SAT and ACT tests seriously. Some students get so focused on athletics or building a well-rounded college resume’ they neglect academics. Yet there are more scholarships for academics than for sports. It’s not usually stated this way, but your GPA and your SAT/ACT scores are actually worth money when it comes to merit-based grants and scholarships. It pays to study hard! And if you don’t like your SAT or ACT score, study and do a retake. 57% of students who retake their SAT or ACT see improvements in their scores, which may in turn lead to better scholarship opportunities.
  • Apply for scholarships. There are so many scholarships out there! A quick internet search led me to the Asparagus Club scholarship (for those pursuing degrees in business or food management), the Tall Clubs International scholarship (offering $1000 to tall students selected annually) and the Doodle for Google scholarship (offering $30,00 for the annual artist chosen by Google). The trick is finding which scholarships apply to you. Thankfully, there are free scholarship matching services available online. Researching and applying for potential scholarships is time-consuming, but worth it!
  • Fill out the FAFSA (free application for federal student aid) form your senior year. Every year, nearly $3 billion in federal grants go unclaimed by qualified students who could have potentially earned up to $4,000 just by applying. Once again, the time and effort involved is worth it!
  • Take AP classes or consider concurrent enrollment options. If your high school offers AP classes, take advantage! The price of an AP test is cheap compared with college tuition and allows you to knock off classes you’d take later on in college. Similarly, some schools offer concurrent enrollment options that allow you to take college classes while still in high school. Again, this is an affordable way to get a jump on your college education.
  • Consider a community college or in-state school for your first year. Even if these options do not appeal to you, it is something to consider by way of saving money. Living at home to save money for a year or taking a few semesters at an “off brand college” isn’t for everyone. But it’s something to consider if finances are tight, and may give you one more year to save towards your higher education goals.

These are just a few ideas to get you rolling. Don’t let the scary “sticker price” of your dream school keep you away from making college plans. There are plenty of ways to save money, reduce expenses and pay for college!