A four-year degree really isn’t necessary for success in life, but spending the money and going to college is the right decision for most people. You will do much better, though, if you plan ahead, and make an effort to lower your costs.
Some of the essentials, if you want to minimize the amount of money you borrow in student loans, include working toward scholarships, applying for grants, saving money in a 529 plan, and even getting a job. You can also find other ways to save money as a college student. As you do these things, though, you can also make plans about where you will attend college. Sometimes, where you go matters quite a bit in getting the best bang for your education buck — and keeping you from crippling student loan debt.
Attend a Community College First
My husband started out at a community college. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was cheap. He got his generals taken care of, and even took a major class or two. When he was ready to transfer to a four-year school to finish his degree, his good grades landed him a scholarship. You can start out at a community college, and save money for a couple of years before transferring.
Stay Close to Home
While you could attend a community college far away, you can save even more if you stay close to home at first. My husband (he’s a really good example of doing things right with education dollars) lived at home while attending community college. He saved money on tuition, and he didn’t have to pay housing (or food, most of the time) expenses. Even if you go to a four-year university to start, living at home can provide you with a huge cost advantage, reducing the amount of money you borrow, since you won’t have to borrow for living costs on top of your tuition.
Consider a State School
There are a number of state schools that offer a good education at a reasonable price. If you are a resident of that state, you can save even more. In many cases, especially if you plan to get an advanced degree, starting at a state school can be a good way to save money. I started out at a small state school for my undergraduate degree before finishing my M.A. at a private school. If I started out at a private school right from the beginning, I would owe much more now. And, since I do have an advanced degree, no one cares a whole lot about where I got my B.S. (Although, technically, since I’m not in the traditional workforce, probably no one cares where I earned my M.A. either!)
Before you rush off to an expensive private school for your four-year degree, stop and think about what you are really doing. Is it really worth the student debt you could end up with? Your education dollars might stretch much further if you choose to go a different route, so take care in your decision.