Back to College—Debt Free

Bunny in sea of gownsWhen our daughter, Bethany, was four years old, she came running in the house sobbing uncontrollably. I smoothed her blond curls and held her, “What’s wrong, Bunny?”

“I don’t want to leave you and go to college!”  Her chubby arms held my neck tight.

“Um, well, Bunny, you don’t have to go to college any time soon!” I soothed, while rubbing her back.

She sat up straight, “I don’t?”

Wiping her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”

Later, I discovered that Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. Bethany thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her unhappy.

Fast forward two decades and she did go off to college. Three years ago, she graduated from Moody in Chicago, majoring in electronic media communications. She’s not crying now. In fact, because she has no student loan debt, she was able to work for a non-profit in Europe for a year. She now lives in an affordable house with roommates, and can afford to travel for fun. If fact, she leaves Saturday to visit Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. She can do all of this because she graduated debt free from college, and you, or your child, can too!

Here are some ways to stretch your dollars and minimize student loan debt this fall:

Make the Right Choice – Choose a school not because it’s the best, but because it’s the best value. Change the conversation from “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” to “I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.” Our son, Daniel, chose the scholarship offered by the University of Texas over those extended from Syracuse and TCU because he would have had 60K in student loan debt after the other scholarships ran out. Instead, he graduated debt-free, with honors, and a degree in journalism. He’s a working writer in Texas and doesn’t regret his college choice.

Make Applying for Scholarships a Part-Time Job – Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. Go to www.collegeboard.com or www.salliemae.com to find scholarships that might be a fit for you. And don’t stop looking just because you’re already in college, apply for scholarships each and every year.

Make a Budget, and Stick to It As a parent of a college student, your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. To ensure students are making the most of their money, set a budget for spending and manage it by loading funds on a campus card to help track spending. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Make a Smart Move on Textbooks – You can rent or get a digital textbook by going to: Rent-A-Text  or CafeScribe’s. These are great options that have saved students more than $130 million, our family included. Students who rent books through the program still have the freedom to highlight and take notes in their textbooks (within the normal wear and tear associated with coursework) and the flexibility to pay for their materials through financial aid and campus cards. Students can also save on shipping by having their books delivered to their on-campus bookstore. The digital option allows students to work on Macs, PCs and most web-enabled devices like tablets and smartphones when using CafeScribe.

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