One of the challenges many young people must face is beginning their career with massive student debts.  A college education for many students is the first/second most expensive purchase they will ever make (a home is the other major expense).  In most cases, you can develop a strategy which can help you graduate from college with minimal debt.  Here’s how:

Be Thoughtful in Choosing Your College and Major

1. Select a university which you can afford. Consider this:  Long term career success depends more on your job performance than the university you attended.  Every organization in America has leaders who graduated from more affordable universities.

2. Select a major which can provide you with opportunities for internships while in college. You should ask specific questions about the support you will be given to find an internship and a full time job when you graduate.  Students with high student debt levels often changed majors because they couldn’t get a job with their original major.

It’s Never Too Early to Start Saving

3. Save up in advance to be able to pay for your tuition payment. Most students need loans to make their tuition payment since it is a huge cost to be paid at one time.  You can do this by deferring entering college until you have made enough money to pay the first year’s tuition.

4. Use summer internships or semester co-ops to save up money to pay for future semesters. You will need to invest time in getting an internship.  This generally requires working with career services, applying online, networking with alumni, etc.

Earn Extra Money in School and Avoid Wasteful Spending

5. Obtain a campus job to pay for living expenses. There are a number of jobs which allow you time to study while you are working (e.g. reception jobs, security).  Other jobs will pay for room and board (e.g. residence assistants).

6. Try to avoid going out with a credit/debit card in your wallet. If you are drinking, you are likely to be stupid with your spending.  Just a few weekends can blow the money you need for college expenses.

When you are planning your college budget, scholarships are one way to reduce your costs, but you shouldn’t consider scholarships as your only source of funds available to you.  Think of scholarships as a gift but not the foundation for paying for college.  If you approach college with a “pay as you go” strategy, you should be able to graduate with minimal debt.  What you don’t want to do is think of college as a necessary investment that will be sure to be worth it.  Like all investments, the return on your college investment will be based on how smart you were in managing the investment.

If you have to take out student loans, it’s never too early to think about what the repayment process will look like. You should start tracking and managing your credit score. A high credit score will make you a better candidate for refinancing to a lower interest rate when you graduate.

This article was written in partnership with University Survival.

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