The following is a guest post by Josiah Kennealy. Visit the Facebook page to learn more about his book Debtless and find more great tips.
Over the past five years, I have met with many college students, young couples and young adults who are drowning in debt and struggling financially because of student loans. I recently completed my master’s degree — graduating debt-free — and focused my capstone project on this topic. My colleagues and I surveyed 850 college students from more than 200 different colleges and universities in over 40 states. We published the findings in the book Debtless.
Not surprisingly, the results showed that college debt is a huge problem. We found that over 39 percent of current college students have no idea how much they owe in student loans. Based on our research, current students have taken on an average of $26,659 in debt — and haven’t graduated yet! Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed said no one informed them about alternatives to student loans.
I want to share with you three tips that will help you pay for college, take on less debt, and pursue your dreams with passion!
College is expensive. Every situation is different because each student has a different desire of what his or her future dreams hold. In addition, every family has a different financial situation based on jobs, income level, and life events.
Research and due diligence is your job. I recommend that students in high school visit their school’s office to set up a meeting with their school counselor. One you’ve done that, you want to talk to the admissions offices of every school you’re applying for. This can help you figure out things like FAFSA, which is a form family’s fill out to apply for financial aid in the form of grants and government helps.
Similar to researching the costs of different college and university options and learning what forms of financial aid are available is applying for outside scholarships. What scholarships do you qualify for? There are a few free websites I recommend: fastweb is one of the best. (You shouldn’t have to pay for any of them). I recently talked with a high school principle who has a community fund with $100,000 awarded in scholarships annually, but some years not all of it is given out because students don’t apply for it!
Lastly, could you work while you’re in school? I worked at least 25 hours per week throughout college during the school year and more over summer break. This allowed me to pay as I went for school.
Looking back, one of the scholarships I’m most thankful I applied for was actually in my last semester of undergrad. I applied for a fully funded summer study abroad trip to Israel/The Holy Land. To take this trip out of pocket would have been in the neighborhood of $10,000 and also gave me graduate studies credits. I was awarded the trip and it was life changing for me to walk where Jesus walked and has been invaluable to me as a pastor in ministry. It never hurts to apply!
What are some ways you could increase the amount of money you have?
This is coming up with your own game plan and road map to success. Again, every student’s experience is going to be different and every family of origin is different to begin with. If you find yourself particularly overwhelmed or stressed out, just know you can do it!
For some people, it makes sense to earn college credit while they are in high school still through AP courses, PSEO, IB and other college in the school programs.
Another opportunity to think about is spending your first year or two at a community college and later transferring to a four—year public or private university. This is a way you can cut the cost overall, and generally community college students can live at home in addition to work. This can be a tri-fecta! Lower cost to classes, live at home rent free, and work to pay bills and save towards the future.
I always remind families that if you serve in the military for four years, the GI Bill covers the cost of courses and living expenses for your undergraduate degree.
à My favorite tip to offer about paying for college is to buy your textbooks from Amazon instead of the bookstore on campus! My first year, I spent around $600 both semesters to buy brand new books on campus. My last few years, I discovered I could buy the same books used on Amazon for a fraction of the cost. This saved me at least $400 per semester.
What are some ways you could cut the cost?
If you are a first generation college student, (and 25% of students are in 2018) one of the things I would say to you is you can do it and you’re not alone. Mentors, youth pastors, parents, teachers, and counselors are people you can let in on the process. Work together! Maybe this process begins for you by calling a cousin or friend who’s a current college student and asking them about their experience.
Chris Brown (financial expert and nationally syndicated radio show host) recently said that 80% of parents expect their child to graduate with student loans. I’m here to tell you that graduating debt free is completely possible and now that you’re on this journey, graduating with less debt is extremely likely!
My greatest takeaway from grad school was learning how to build a great team. This applies to leading a ministry of volunteers, or leading a large company filled with workers. It also applies to you as you go into the next season of life. Build a dream-team that has mentors, teachers, advisors, coaches and family members who can help you get to where you want to go.
I wrote the book Debtless for you and our team created a 12-week YouTube video series with more tips on how to pay for college as well! You can add me to your team of people cheering you on, believing that you can do it and passing along helpful information in the process. My heartbeat and passion is to add value to the lives of young people in America and equipping them with the resources necessary to succeed!
In my situation, I wanted to graduate with no debt. I knew it would be a challenge. One of the things my parents offered to team up with me was to live at home for free. I was able to commute back and forth to the university I went to since my parents lived less than 15 miles away. As an extrovert, this was a major sacrifice, but as I brainstormed creative ways to cut costs, this made a lot of sense and saved a ton of money for me.
When you are willing to sacrifice to minimize the total cost and expense, work to raise your income, and involve other people in the process you are on the path to success!
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!