When I worked last summer, I worked with people who had been to college and those who had not been to college. Some of the people who had not been to college were making more money than the people who had been to college and graduate school. One woman told me that she thought about going to college but decided not to because her family could not afford for her to go and she did not want the debt associated with college. Also, she was making more money than most of her co-workers who had been to college, so she believed that she had made the right choice. Because she did not have debt, she was able to buy a car, get married, start a family, start a 401K and set up savings accounts for her children by the time she was 25 – the age when students who have been to college and graduate school are just starting out. This woman was able to get a jumpstart on her life and career and she was fortunate because the career she had chosen did not require a college degree but still pays a salary that is equivalent to college degree salaries. More importantly, she was able to avoid debt and preserve her credit rating because she has been working consistently since the age of 18 in the same industry. She also has the benefit of being more experienced than recent graduates just entering the workforce. Her situation may not be typical but she chose a career where going to college was unnecessary.
While the woman in my scenario may have gotten a head start on college graduates, statistics show that college graduates will make 84 percent more than their high school graduate counterparts over a lifetime of working [Los Angeles Times-Tiffany Hsu-8/05/11]. According to the same study, the researchers estimate that by the year 2018, 63 percent of all jobs will require some postsecondary education or training. Given these statistics, it appears that the best bet is to pursue a college education and attempt at all costs to prevent or minimize the debt that will follow you from college.
The easiest way to minimize debt is to attend college in state at a state school. In-state tuition is significantly less than out-of state tuition at state schools all over the country. Students can save on room and board by staying at home and commuting to further save money. Another way to limit college debt is to apply for scholarships, like I am doing now. Two thousand dollars would be a significant help with my room and board for my first year of college. There are also state-specific scholarship programs like the HOPE Scholarship here in Georgia for Georgia residents who have maintained a 3.0 while in high school [http://www.gacollege411.org]. There are several corporations and organizations that have scholarships available at the national, regional and local levels; the national scholarships will be more competitive due to the number of students applying but there is always a chance that you could be the winner in any of the competitions, if you apply. There are thousands of dollars in scholarship money that go unclaimed because students don’t know about them and even when they do, don’t take the initiative to apply or are too intimidated to apply.
Another way to prevent college debt is to play a sport and be good in that sport. Being recruited to play college sports is often the quickest and least painful way of paying for college, unless you play football which may be more painful than other sports. My coach told our team that he was able to get into all the schools where he made application because of recruitment for sports. He was able to avoid a lot of stress his senior year because he knew what schools had accepted him early, he knew how his college education would be paid for and he knew that he would have a whole team of potential friends when he got to his new college. Everyone can’t play sports and everyone can’t do it well enough to pay for college but if you can and you have the passion to play for another four years in college, it is a great way to avoid college debt altogether.
Another option is delaying college and attending as a veteran of the armed services under the Montgomery GI Bill [http://www.gibill.va.gov]. Technically, you can be finished with four years of military service and four years of college by the time you are 26 years old. Although you end up being a little older than traditional college students, you may also be better prepared after training in the military and a few more years of life experiences under your belt.
Finally, working through college is another option for offsetting college expenses. Hospitals and universities will often provide full tuition coverage and many corporations offer tuition reimbursement. While it is difficult to work full-time and attend school, organized students can make it work. Although it may take a little longer to matriculate through the university, you can often move right up to the next position you qualify for with your current employer when you do graduate.
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