SAINT ANTONY – College can be exorbitantly expensive, but a few strategies can help you graduate with little or no debt.
Joshua Mata is studying to be an architect without building a tower of student loan debt.
“They pay all the tuition, three years,” he said.
He is starting his studies at San Antonio College by participating in the Alamo Promise program. She will then transfer to a university, possibly UTSA.
Smart move, according to Kristina Ellis, who literally wrote the book on graduating debt-free. She is a college finance expert at Dave Ramsey Solutions.
“Don’t believe the myth that you need to spend a ton of money. You don’t have to go to a fancy school,” she said. “The idea that you have to seek prestige is simply not true. There are plenty of successful people who went to a low-cost college and got to where they are because they were willing to put in the effort and work hard.”
Look beyond the sticker price. Some colleges are more generous than others when it comes to financial aid.
Community college is worth considering, Ellis said, especially if you’re not sure what you want to study. Once you complete the core courses, you can transfer to a four-year college or university to earn your degree.
“Many states and cities have free or very low-cost community colleges. It’s a great place to start,” Ellis said.
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and do it as soon as possible.
“Many people who think they won’t qualify for financial aid are actually surprised when they receive a small award,” Ellis said. “If you’re a low-income student, this can be a great access point to a lot of financial aid.”
If you don’t qualify for a grant, you may be eligible to participate in a work-study program.
Then apply for as many scholarships as you can.
“My senior year of high school, I treated it like a part-time job,” he said.
Ellis secured half a million dollars in scholarships for his degrees.
You can find scholarships by searching online databases at websites like Scholarshipowl.com and MyScholly.com.
Ellis recommends starting with your high school guidance counselor.
“They are going to coordinate a lot of local scholarships,” he said. “Those tend to have less competition.”
Employer tuition assistance programs are also becoming more common. By taking advantage of those opportunities, you can get a degree and a paycheck at the same time.
Budget and planning are key. Setting up a college savings plan like a 529 when a child is very young allows the investment to grow as the child does.
“I encourage parents to start saving as soon as possible,” Ellis said. “Even if you don’t have much, that little can add up.”
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