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What Is the Secret to Graduating From College With No Student Debt?

Students may dream of graduating debt-free, but that's often not the reality. Here's why that's okay and what you can do to make your debt more manageable.

CX experts generic imageBrendan Coughlin
Former President of Education Finance
Citizens Financial Group
To me, it’s not about whether you have “zero debt” after graduating college but whether your loans are manageable and if the investment was worth it. Parents and students should consider how much they can afford for college and how much debt—if any—they are willing to take on considering what college to attend and what their career aspirations are after graduation. “Can I afford this payment with the job I want?” is a critical question students should ask themselves before enrolling at a school and taking on a loan. College is a major investment, and banks like Citizens are committed to making higher education more affordable for students and their families. Some customers choose to begin repaying their loans immediately so they can stay ahead of them and owe less when they graduate, which is always a good strategy to curb interest.

Hicks Grazette

Jacqueline Hicks Grazette
Chief Executive Officer
One of the best ways students can make college worth the cost and avoid debt is to lower the cost of attending college in the first place by earning merit aid and/or attending a college with an outstanding cooperative work program. This reduces the financial risk of going and makes everyone happier. While students and families focus on need-based aid (which is often loan-driven) or athletic scholarships (the average athletic award of around $8,000 is relatively small when tuition costs $50,000 per year for many schools), few realize that merit aid is abundant and much more generous. Access to merit aid is something a student can easily control by simply working hard to earn the highest grades possible during their high school years. Merit aid for most colleges begins at the 3.0 GPA level; at a perfect 4.0, a student might find one-half to three-fourths the cost of their tuition, if not more, covered via merit aid. Amounts vary, but no student with strong grades is likely to go to a college without some form of merit aid.

Another effective strategy is to attend schools with cooperative work programs—e.g., working in the field of their intended major while going to school and earning college academic credit for the work. Colleges that give credit for such employment not only strengthen the likelihood that students will be hired upon graduation, but most will allow those students to keep their co-op work earnings without reducing any financial aid awarded to the student. Couple that with an accelerated graduation schedule, and a student might be able to cut their college costs by at least a third.

Still not sure you can afford to go to college? Check out Our Best Advice to Help You Pay for a College Education to make your dream a reality.

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