While some schools' tuition rates rise almost imperceptibly this year, others increase by thousands of dollars each year. Some of students may perceive these ever-ballooning price tags as roadblocks to a college education. But they don't have to be. With the total outstanding student loan debt in the United States constantly increasing, taking out loans seems all but unavoidable, particularly for middle class and economically disadvantaged students. So how can you help your students avoid falling down this rabbit hole of student debt without forfeiting a college education altogether?
Educate them about student loans
Make sure your students are familiar with the different types of student loans and their long-term effects. It's easy to sign a few papers and take the money when repayment is at least four years away, but those four years will go by quickly—and loans are often a lifetime commitment. Help them understand their financial aid options and the interest rates of both federal and private loans and how much that interest will cost them over the life of a given loan.
Help them search for scholarships and grants
Obviously, the more money your students can get for free, the better. Researching and applying for scholarships takes some time and effort, but it will be more than worth it in the long run. Be sure they're also looking at the institutional scholarships and grants available at the schools they're applying to. Some schools offer scholarships for things like above average SAT scores—they just need to be sure to check with financial aid offices so they know what's available and how they can cash in.
Offer money-saving and money-making suggestions
Whether a student is going to a local state school or an Ivy League university, a college education is one of the biggest purchases they will ever make. Help your students find ways to scrimp and save whenever possible. Many freshmen take a hit when it comes time to buy textbooks. Advise them to hunt for used textbooks at campus bookstores or online before shelling out hundreds of dollars for brand-new copies. Also advise your students to look into work-study options or part-time jobs to help pay for tuition and cost of living expenses. Just be sure they're familiar with their schools' policies since some colleges prohibit freshmen from working during their first year.
Additionally, after the excitement of turning 18 and graduating from high school, living at home might seem like a freedom-crushing option, but students who live within a reasonable driving distance of their schools might consider commuting. Room and board can add tens of thousands of dollars to the total cost of attendance, so toughing it out with the parents for a little while can translate into a huge savings.
Suggest “more bang for your buck" options
Help your students investigate money-saving options at the schools they plan to attend. Some schools offer flat-rate tuition, meaning that once students have registered for enough hours to be considered full-time, they can take as many hours as they want for a flat rate (though they may need departmental permission to take a particularly large course load). This option can both reduce the overall cost of a college degree and encourage students to graduate on time.
Other schools offer guaranteed tuition plans, under which students will pay the same tuition rate they pay as freshmen for all four years. Guaranteed tuition helps families plan for tuition costs and encourages students to graduate on time, since the rate is generally effective for a maximum of four years. As you help your students narrow down the list of schools to which they will apply, consider suggesting colleges that offer these or similar options.
Even though your students are still teenagers, the decisions they're making today will affect the rest of their lives. Encourage your students to think beyond college. Ask them, "What do you want to major in, what kind of job are you hoping to land, and will that job allow you to comfortably repay the debt you'd need to take on to get that degree?" Of course, there always will be dreamy-eyed liberal arts majors, such as myself. But one simply can't graduate from college and immediately become the next Sarah J. Maas. Before taking on loans, all students, regardless of their majors, should have a realistic idea of what they want to do with their degrees and what kind of financial future they're working toward.
How do you help students avoid student loan debt? Consider dropping us your expert advice and it could end up in one of our Ask the Experts posts!