12 Ways to Reduce the Need for College Loans

Thinking about paying for college can sometimes induce middle of the night cold sweats and repaying student loans can be a daunting task. There are smart ways to approach repayment post-graduation, but there are also some really smart ways to avoid having to take out loans in the first place. This article will provide a dozen ways to reduce your need for loans. Whether you choose just one specific strategy or any mixture of the twelve, your post-grad self will thank you. Trust me.

1. Invest your time in looking for Scholarships.

Hear me out: if you spend an hour on the application for a $100 scholarship and receive it, you just made $100/hour. Every scholarship you earn takes a chip out of a loan amount you might have to take out in the future. Obviously, you won’t get every scholarship you apply for, but it is worth it to dedicate a good amount of time to submitting quality applications.

Here are a few great websites you can use to look for scholarships:,, and Keep in mind that it is important to be creative with your scholarship search. Though these websites are great places to start, they will have a significant amount of applicants. Keep an eye out for scholarships with a narrow scope. Whether it’s a community or church scholarship, something your high school is offering, or a scholarship that uniquely applies to you because of your chosen major, these may have a higher likelihood that you’ll receive them.

2. Accumulate College Credits Before Entering College.

If your high school offers any version of PSEO, AP, or CIS classes, try to take advantage of them. Specifically, if you are considering attending a Liberal Arts College, take a look at their general requirements. It is possible that some of the college credit classes you take in high school can count for a few of your generals. Look for programs that also provide funding for you to buy or rent the textbooks required. Taking free colleges classes now means that there will be fewer classes you’ll have to pay for in the long run!

3. Find student employment

Many college campuses offer a variety of employment opportunities for students. Whether you work in a dining center or a library, a tutoring office or an on-campus gym, working while you attend college can give you that extra income boost you need. Even working a few hours a week can provide some extra disposable income. Want to go to a movie with friends without tapping into your savings? Having an income (and a budget) can increase the quality of college without increasing the amount of loans you’ll have to pay back after.

4. Use a tuition repayment plan

It’s fair to say that most college students don’t have several thousand dollars of expendable income at the beginning of a semester. For this reason, many colleges offer a tuition payment plan – a plan that allows you to pay for your semester over a few set payments throughout the year. If you’ve taken the advice to find student employment, a tuition payment plan can be a really manageable way for you to pay for school as you make money in your job. Keep in mind that many schools charge a fee for late payments, and incurring more fees is the opposite of saving money. Pay on time, ask the financial aid officer which plan is right for you (if any), and enjoy the flexibility of this option.

5. Consider ROTC & US Military options

Both ROTC and the US Military have excellent programs to financially help students through undergrad. Each branch has its own eligibility and service requirements. Students in these programs take classes for their desired major, as well as classes that relate to where they plan to serve. After graduation, students begin service as an officer in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps. Military Tuition Assistance is a benefit that has the ability to cover up to 100% of college costs for individuals in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard.

6. Choose an in-state school

Choosing an in-state school (or a school in a state with reciprocity) can dramatically decrease the cost of your education. Unless your dream school on the other side of your country is going to provide incredible scholarships for you, it’s really hard to beat the price of an in-state school. There is a balancing act that happens here – it’s important to go to a school that is an excellent fit for you, but it’s also important to go to a school you won’t spend the next few decades repaying. If there’s a comparable school that could offer an in-state tuition, the best way to reduce your need for loans is to pick the one that costs less.

7. Check out Legacy scholarship opportunities

Many schools offer a scholarship for students who attend the same school as their parents or grandparents. If your parent’s alma mater provides generous legacy scholarships, it might be worth moving that school up higher on your list.

8. Commute

Tuition is just one of the things that you pay for when you attend college. Another huge chunk of the expenses you’ll incur comes from campus housing or meal plans. There is definitely merit to living on campus, and some people choose to live on campus their entire academic career (i.e. I did that). But if your college ends up being close to home or you find a cheaper place to live off-campus with some roommates, cutting down on housing expenses can drastically reduce the overall cost of college. There are housing options that will still allow you to have a really great college experience, for a significantly decreased cost.

9. Attend a community college and then transfer

Many schools – especially liberal art schools – require general education classes or beginning classes within a major that could easily be taken at a less expensive university. Community College and Public or Private Universities offer a variety of different experiences, and it’s up to you to choose where you’ll thrive. Going to Community College for two years can save you a significant amount of money in the long run (especially if you also live at home!).

10. Rent books

No matter what the tour guide told you on your campus tour, buying your books at the campus bookstore is never going to be as cost-effective as renting your books or buying used. If the campus bookstore offers rentals or used books, that could be a great place to start. Renting or buying used books online on sites like Amazon or Chegg usually means that you’ll pay a fraction of the cost of buying new. Make sure to pay attention to whether or not you need an online code or an additional guide, sometimes the used or rental books do not come with these resources. It’s also a great idea to sell your books at the end of a semester for some extra cash-flow.

11. Invest in SAT/ACT prep

In high school it’s hard to wrap your brain around the fact that some of the things you do now can be impactful for your college career. Investing in SAT/ACT prep books, classes, and practice tests can positively affect your score on these college entrance exams. Your score and GPA determine how much merit-based financial aid your college will provide, and work you put in now can help you have less repayment stress in the future!

12. Graduate in 4 years

Last, but most definitely not least, try to graduate in four years. 60% of college students actually take up to 6 years to finish their degree. As you can imagine, adding more years to a four-year degree only increases your overall cost. If you plan on attending a large public school, see if you can get a 4-year guarantee (a promise that the school will offer the classes you need to graduate in 4 years). Switching majors can also set you back, but it’s important to have a major that will point you towards your desired career path. 80% of students switch their major (I switched three times), but there are a few smart strategies you can employ for this. One: have conversations early about what career path appeals most to you. Even in high school, take some career tests, do some job shadowing, and evaluate your strengths. Two: if you enter college undecided about your major, start by taking more general classes that could potentially count for a few different majors. If your school requires general credits, just taking generals your first semester buys you some time to figure out your major – and you didn’t take any classes that don’t count for anything.

These are important, fun, exciting, new, and terrifying years – it’s important to make the best of them. But it’s also important to think ahead and act wise now to reduce your debt later. Trust me, college is worth it, but repayment can be stressful. Hopefully these tips will help you incur less debt and still have a great college experience!

Caitlin Navratil

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